The Progressive Case Against the Health Care Bill and Higher Ed Reform

05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While it may seem like the wrong time for progressives to discuss what they do not like about the new health care legislation, it is essential that someone clarifies from the left why this bill is a very bad idea. The major problem with this reform is that it expands the number of people being insured without major cost reductions and containment. This not only means that in the near future, the cost of insurance plans will go up, but insurers and pharmaceutical corporations will continue to rake in huge profits. Although the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that this new plan will eventually reduce the budget deficit, this projection is based on many questionable assumptions and does not examine critically what will happen to many individuals who already have health care insurance and many companies that currently provide insurance.

Not only does this bill attack the people who do have good employee-based health care plans by taxing them in the future, but also it undermines the efforts of unions that have often traded higher wages for better benefits. Moreover, while there are some good parts of the legislation dealing with pre-existing conditions, it looks like the insurance companies will be the biggest winners because they will be able to sign more people up and pass on the increased costs to workers by increasing premiums.

What has been lost in all of this political debate is that one of the biggest causes for personal bankruptcy in America is people who have health care insurance not being able to pay for expensive operations and medical treatment. It is unclear how the present bill will reduce this problem or how the new legislation will make our companies more competitive on a global level. The simple fact is that if you do not bring down the cost for health care plans, businesses, individuals, and taxpayers will be left footing the bill to pay for increased insurance and pharmaceutical profits.

The only reason this bill has passed is that it has become a political referendum on the president, and the Republicans over-played their hand by simply saying no to everything. Furthermore, Democrats were afraid to vote against the bill because they felt it would have signaled the end of the current administration and major losses in the next elections. While it is possible that some people really believe that the best thing we can do now is to expand the number of people covered and to remove some ways that insurance companies deny coverage, most politicians have not thought about the long-term consequences of this deeply failed legislation because everyone has simply lined up according to their ideological commitments.

It is interesting to note that health care reform is a lot like higher education policy: politicians seem to only talk about access and rarely do they address affordability and quality. Ironically, one of the best things in the health care bill is the new plan for the government to provide higher education loans directly to students. This new plan will make it easier for more people to gain access to higher education, but universities and colleges are reacting to this potential increase in enrollments by raising tuition and reducing the quality of their educational offerings. Not only are more universities turning to inexpensive part-time labor to teach most of their courses, but they are expanding class sizes, while they jack up their tuition. The end result is that students will pay more, and they will get less; meanwhile, the government will step in and help subsidize the increase in the price tag without requiring any type of quality control or cost reduction.

If you want to fix both health care and higher education in America, a totally different plan is needed. The first step is to demand price controls and limit administrative costs, and this effort at cost containment should be coupled with a push to improve quality. As strange as it may seem, studies show that the best way to reduce costs is to emphasize quality, and when the government ignores quality and only concentrates on increasing access, the result is a loss of affordability.