Three months ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the signature item of his administration's leftist agenda: a government takeover of health care. Since that day, a steady stream of missteps and sobering reports on how irreparably broken our new health care system will be under the Democrats' massive government scheme has solidified numerous concerns in the minds of most Americans. Namely, Obamacare is a hastily crafted maze of Washington-empowering, government-first policies that will forever scar the quality, affordability and accessibility of health care in this nation.
The health care bill, in its final incarnation, was not something that anyone — not the president, not Congressional Democrats and certainly not the American people — ever imagined would actually become the law of the land. This was the second step in a three-step process (House, Senate, conference) that became the endgame after Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was elected. The bill was built with special interest carve-outs and individual Member demands that the Democratic leadership in the Senate cobbled together in hopes of getting something, anything out the door before heading home for the holidays in December.
The last-minute backroom deal-making ensured the package would be a massive, costly and misdirected amalgam of policies that do not reflect the needs or desires of the American people. The American people's rejection of the style and substance of the package from the very beginning ensured the president would have to sign whatever mess was put in front of him in order to claim victory.
Nevertheless, the refrain that Congressional Democrats have adopted now that they have popped the Champagne on health care reform is that the country should just get used to it and try to make the best of it. Putting aside the rather arrogant assumptions buried in that line of thinking, it is helpful to examine what more we have learned about the administration's plan as it is now being implemented. There are troubling signs emerging already that the government is ill-suited for a job of this magnitude.
The chronic missed deadlines that encompassed the Democrats' drive to pass a government takeover of health care last fall are now missed deadlines as they try to implement the law. To date, the administration has fallen behind schedule on the creation of a task force on the Alaskan population's health status as well as a breast cancer education task force. They have defaulted on a timely publishing of a clear list of authorities granted to the federal bureaucracy under the new law and have yet to set a schedule for a Government Accountability Office study and financial audit.
And there have been larger stumbles along the way. The much-touted federal high-risk pools that would be established to help cover individuals with pre-existing conditions have been recognized as both underfunded — $5 billion for the entire country over four years — and sadly only accessible to a mere 200,000 out of a potential 8 million Americans. Any individual looking to take part in the Washington pre-packaged high-risk pool would be required to be uninsured for at least six months prior — a daunting prospect in its own right and not the type of incentive that leads to a healthier America.
Then, of course, there is the roster of people who Obama is asking to lead the implementation, most notably his nominee to be director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Donald Berwick. An avowed admirer of Great Britain's socialized National Health Service, Berwick has stated publicly that he believes the rationing of care is a given under health care reform and the only question remaining is whether Washington will "ration with our eyes open." Now he will be leading thousands of bureaucrats spread across Washington to make decisions over the personal health care choices of the American people, when those people know that they are the ones who should be in charge of their own health care decisions.
In a direct assault on quality and accessibility, health care providers will now have to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how they can keep their practices afloat when Washington is slashing reimbursement rates and handing down dictates on what kinds of services are deemed necessary. Is it any wonder a New England Journal of Medicine survey of primary-care physicians found that a stunning 46 percent would consider retirement rather than take part in a system that diminishes the quality of care?
Ultimately what it will take to implement a health care reform package that speaks to the needs of the American people, and not Washington, is to fully repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered set of reforms. Short of this type of responsible correction, America's health care system will be plagued in the years to come by a bloated government bureaucracy ill-equipped to address the nuanced and complex nature of our nationwide health care system.
The failed leadership that got us into this mess was the first warning sign of what is to come. In the end, the current health care law will serve Washington's interests, empowering a new generation of federal bureaucrats at the expense of quality, accessibility and affordability in health care. It doesn't have to be this way.
Rep. Tom Price (Ga.) is a physician and chairman of the Republican Study Committee.