American medical care over the past 60 years has come under increasing government regulation, control and economic dominance, thanks in part to Medicare and Medicaid.
Each of these programs has overrun its initial cost estimates, not by a mere 10 percent or 20 percent, but by a factor of 10 to 20. In company with Social Security, their costs will soon dominate the entire federal budget.
Now, "Optimists say" the $848 billion health care package drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "would eventually reduce both private premiums and the swelling cost of government health care for the elderly and poor," reports The Washington Post.
"Pessimists," on the other hand, "fear the initiative would leave Washington struggling to pay for a new $200-billion-a-year health program even as existing programs require vast infusions of cash to care for the aging baby-boom generation," the Post reports.
By imposing new taxes now, but phasing in benefits only over a period of years, the Reid bill is rigged to fool federal 10-year cost analysts into believing it will shave "less than 2 percent from deficits projected to top $9 trillion over the next decade." After that, the Congressional Budget Office figures its impact on federal deficits -- projected to balloon to roughly 14 percent of the economy by 2035 -- would be minimal.
"The hope that health care reform would take care of our budget problem has evaporated," admits Isabel Sawhill, a fiscal expert at the Brookings Institution.
Furthermore, the budget-balancing act assumes Congress won't renege on imposing new taxes and spending cuts. This is like watching a skilled carny operator shift the three walnut shells, in hopes we can find the one that contains the pea. Problem is, the fellow palmed the pea way back at the start.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag insists the legislation "creates a feedback and continuous improvement loop that will allow us to learn as we go," while insisting that "Doing nothing is guaranteed to fail," since -- without change -- health care costs are poised to swamp the federal budget.
But what really threatens to "swamp the federal budget" is the assumption that the federal government can cover all the medical costs anyone chooses to run up. What Washington should be doing is reining in or reforming Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, they plan to make all medical care "free" for everyone, and promise us it won't cost a thing.
If you believe that, let's go to the nearest ATM and draw out your life savings. Then, we'll bet you can't figure out which walnut shell holds this little pea ...