A little more than a week ago the Congressional Budget Office scored the House version of a health overhaul bill at $1.5 trillion, that is, if you believe those rather optimistic estimates.
Congress, after all, has a history of underestimating the costs of the programs they fund. In fact, the independent HSI Network scored the House’s initial draft at a heart-stopping $3.5 trillion.
But, let’s give Congress the benefit of the doubt, for just a moment, as we try to comprehend just how much of our money it wants to spend on government-run health care.
Start by imagining a professional football stadium, with a fence around the field itself from sideline to sideline, goal line to goal line. If you poured out $1.5 trillion worth of $100 bills, it would cover the entire field and create a pile more than 12 feet high — taller than the crossbar on the goal posts. That is how much taxpayer money Congress must confiscate to pay for a government-run health care plan that few, if any, really need.
That’s a massive pile of cash. And here’s a sampling of other government programs or projects and what they have or would cost:
• The entire Space Shuttle program, from the 1970s development and testing all the way up until now — including nearly 120 launched missions — cost $150 billion.
• The inflation-adjusted cost of the entire Apollo Lunar Program that put 12 astronauts on the moon was cheaper — $140 billion.
• The cost to build 20 brand-new Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, and the cost of operating all of them for 10 years each, would only set us back $150 billion.
• One tank of gas, per week, for every car in America, for an entire year, would cost $510 billion.
That much spending, altogether, totals $950 billion. But we would still have another $550 billion left inside the football stadium. If we were standing on the field, the pile of confiscated tax dollars would still be up to our necks.
That’s pretty much where America will be, too, if Congress takes over the health-care system — up to our necks in debt. Everyone will be stuck with a much higher tax bill, whether it’s in the form of paying taxes on our existing employer-paid health benefits, or all of us paying higher prices for “sugary drinks” and other things as Congress has proposed.
And, what will we have to show for this embarrassing orgy of spending by our government? We’ll be stuck with a government-run health plan that rations care, forces us onto unacceptable waiting lists and denies us lifesaving drugs we desperately need. In short, Congress wants to spend all that cash on a plan nobody wants.
Even more frightening is that Congress is proposing this health-care boondoggle after already borrowing $787 billion for a stimulus package that, we are just now learning, “wasn’t enough.” At this very moment, the leading proposal on Capitol Hill is the “public option,” which is a nice way of saying “government-run health care.”
The plan would create a government-managed health-insurance coverage option that would compete with existing insurance coverage and likely force insurance providers out of business. That, in turn, would force more Americans to turn to the government for coverage, costing taxpayers even more and ultimately driving the country further and further into an ever-growing cascade of debt from which we’ll never recover.
At some point, we must ask ourselves, do we really need this? Do we really want to gamble not only our health-care system but our financial future on a scheme that almost certainly will cost more and accomplish far less than Congress predicts?
The White House and Congress both know Americans are terrified of that possibility — so they have given their assurances that a government-run plan won’t compete and won’t exploit any competitive advantages over private insurance companies. Few believe it.
After all, what would be the point of adding one more insurance option to the 1,500 or so that are already available in America, if it’s not going to make a difference? And why raise taxes by hundreds of billions and spend a trillion-and-a-half dollars just to start what amounts to a government-run insurance company?
There are several ways Congress could reform health care right now, without spending a dime. Unlike President Obama’s suggestion that we just “take a painkiller” instead of getting the treatment we need, there are many ideas that would make a real difference for patients.
We easily could lower the cost of individual insurance by giving the same tax breaks that employers get to those who buy their own insurance. Or, Congress could require insurance providers to accept a standard insurance-claim form, which would lower administrative costs for doctors and reduce paperwork problems for patients. And why not require health-care providers to post their prices and outcomes so patients can best decide how and where to spend their health-care dollars?
The time for double-talk and accounting gimmicks is long gone. The White House and Congress have talked out of both sides of their collective mouths, saying they will not only cover the uninsured, but they will also lower health-care costs for all Americans in the process.
If that’s true, perhaps we can drop all the rhetoric and just answer this one question:
“How will spending what amounts to a football field filled with our tax dollars actually lower our health-care costs?”
Rick Scott, a resident of Naples, is chairman of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a group dedicated to free market health-care reforms that put patients first. This article appeared July 10 on RealClearPolitics.com.