Everybody is celebrating this health care reform legislation like we just won the Super Bowl. Or just beat Iraq. All that's missing is the "Mission Accomplished" sign.
I know it seems like we went through a war and it was sweet to see the Republicans lose. And, much more importantly, it was good to see more people covered (kind of, since they have to buy the insurance that they are "covered" by). And there are many great things in this bill, which I have talked about at length.
But this celebration is premature and over-hyped. The insurance companies are still in charge. In fact, they have 31 million new customers handed to them by the government. The issue of costs has simply not been addressed. As things stand now, there is absolutely nothing that can stop insurance companies from raising your premiums tomorrow. And they will, at some point. That's a guarantee.
I'm afraid they are going to be a little bit savvier than raising prices immediately though. Here is the nightmare scenario -- they jack up rates right before the next election ... and blame it on the Democrats. The Republicans are already previewing this strategy. They're talking about how this bill will raise your premiums. That's absolutely not true, but it is true that the bill does almost nothing to prevent insurance companies from doing so.
The drama over the passage of this bill was always fake. The Democrats had overwhelming majorities in the Senate and House. I never once doubted they were going to pass the bill. That wasn't the question. The question was what kind of bill they were going to pass. And the kind they passed was as weak as possible. Every branch of the health care industry absolutely loved it, from the drug makers to the large hospitals.
No public option. No Medicare buy-in. No competition for the insurance companies. No price controls. This is the historic victory? It feels a little like when we pulled Saddam's statue down in Baghdad. Yea, we beat Saddam! Was that ever a question? Of course, we were going to take Baghdad, but that didn't mean we won the war. With this premature celebration over health care reform, I smell a little Iraq in the air.
The underlying problems still exist. Yes, they stopped some of the bleeding and some of the bandages they applied were large, but the patient still has cancer. The rates are never going to stop going up as long as our only option is private insurance companies who are legally bound to make as much money from us as humanly possible while delivering the smallest amount of service. The wound festers and grows (with 31 million new customers). When will it pop back up again? The next time they decide to raise the rates.
When is that? Well, that's the ticking time bomb. And it has not yet been defused. I wouldn't put up any "Mission Accomplished" signs yet and I wouldn't promise the American people that we have a historic fix to the health care problem in this country. Especially when they're going to see differently the next time they get the bill.