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Fleeing From Health Insurance Isn’t the Same Thing as Losing It

“Republican healthcare bill imperiled with 22 million seen losing insurance,” reads a Reuters headline about the CBO assessment of the Senate healthcare bill.And, indeed, the CBO did say, “The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law.”

But the CBO never uses the word “lose”–a word that would imply that those people will be deprived of something they want. And that’s not what the CBO is saying. Instead, it notes:

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 15 million more people would be uninsured under this legislation than under current law—primarily because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2026.

That is, in the absence of penalties coercing them to purchase health insurance that they don’t want, tens of millions of Americans will choose to go without. That’s a big difference for an allegedly free society whose political institutions can fairly be judged by the degree to which they leave people alone to make their own decisions. Those decisions may be wise, unwise, or a mix of the two. But the freedom to make that choice is what matters.

And if Americans choose not to purchase health coverage when they’re freed of coercion, they’re not losing coverage, they’re fleeing from it.

That’s not to say the Senate bill is a good one; it’s a dog’s breakfast that retains many of the distorting features of Obamacare without introducing the choice and free market reforms that could put health care back on an even footing.

But fleeing something you don’t want is a far cry from losing something you cherish.

All you need is a subservient population and a lot of cash

A friend of mine of East Coast extraction recently returned from a trip to Boston. He was visiting relations there who are, as is he, well-educated, successful, professionals. Apparently, dinner-table conversation turned to Obamacare (PPACA, if you insist), and his relatives all defended Massachusetts’s health-care “reform” and the controversial federal law which is largely derived therefrom.

“They’re all Democrats,” he told me. “They can’t imagine being anything else. In Massachusetts, almost everybody is a Democrat.”

Furthermore, my friend, a surgeon, pointed out the high concentration of hospitals and medical-research facilities in and around Boston, the high-tech sector, and the long-established concentration of wealth.

“This sort of thing (government-dominated, centralized, mandated health care) can work there. But out here, we don’t have all of that money, and we don’t have the concentration of medical facilities. Most important, people — most people — moved here for a reason. They want to be left alone. They don’t want the government telling them what to do. I didn’t really realize that until I moved here. You can’t impose a plan like this on the people who live out here.”

By the way, wealth plays a major role, so long as it lasts, that is. The Massachusetts legislation was sold as a way to reduce health care costs, but the Beacon Hill Institute points out that “[t]he law did not bring about a promised reduction in health care expenditures. Rather, it permitted the state legislature and governor to expand health insurance coverage to almost all residents, while imposing more than $8 billion in new health care costs to the federal government and on state residents and businesses.” The Cato Institute agrees, finding (PDF) “There are reasons to be concerned about the rapidly growing expense of this program, which even advocates such as Gruber (2009) admit were put aside in the quest for universal coverage.” Driving health care costs through the ceiling isn’t an option in a country that is, simply, broke.

My friend, not surprisingly, is no longer a Democrat. He considers himself an independent, and is desperately looking for an excuse to vote Republican this year — an excuse the GOP seems dead-set on denying socially tolerant, free-market-oriented independents with its ongoing efforts to define itself as the party of homicidal religious fanatics.

Yes, government-mandated, centrally controlled health care can “work,” for a time, in a region of subservient forelock-tuggers, and where deep pockets can be picked to fund the whim of the moment. But, even there, funds eventually run out. And, elsewhere, neither people nor finances are likely to cooperate.

Obamacare looks unhealthy for businesses

People tend to either love or hate White Castle — there’s no in-between when it comes to those greasy little sliders. Me, I love ’em, especially late at night after a round of social throat-wetting. But the Obama administration … Maybe not so much. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The White Castle hamburger chain fears that a health insurance reform law adopted earlier this year will put its profits on a downward slide.

The Columbus-based family owned restaurant chain — known for serving small square hamburgers called “sliders” — says a single provision in the bill will eat up roughly 55 percent of its yearly net income after 2014.

Starting that year, the bill levies a $3,000-per-employee penalty on companies whose workers pay more than 9.5 percent of household income in premiums for company-provided insurance.

White Castle, which has offered health insurance to its employees since 1924, is considering dropping coverage entirely as one possible way of off-setting the expected financial hit. That would leave the company’s 10,000 formerly covered workers to seek health insurance on their own — most likely from the federal exchange. The feds will impose $2,000-per-person fines on companies that don’t offer coverage, and whose employees turn to federally subsidized insurance instead, but the article cites an IHOP franchise owner who expects the fines to cost roughly half what coverage costs under the new federal scheme.

This squares with what the Heartland Institute’s Health Care News is reporting, with some small businesses panicking about the looming 2014  date. HCN quotes the owner of a small pizza chain saying that if his company is hit with onerous costs under the health care law, “we’ll probably sell all the stores and be done.”

Since the health care law imposes its toughest requirements and penalties on businesses with more than 50 employees, the National Federation of Independent Businesses asks, “what incentive is there for a firm to grow any bigger than 50 employees when it means employers may face such stiff fines?”

What incentive for small businesses to grow — or for larger firms to stay in business, if costs rise and eat up profits?

And all this at the price, as the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner points out, of $2.7 trillion over ten years, a higher national debt, soaring taxes, and health care costs that continue to increase.

Looks like I better stock up on those sliders.