Health care plan must not result in another clunker

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 3, 2009

Offer people a good enough deal and they’re bound to go afterit.

Such is the case, apparently, with the government’s “Cash ForClunkers” program to encourage vehicle owners to trade in their oldautos for new and more efficient rides. Depending on a few factors,owners could get trade-in value of $3,500 or $4,500 toward thepurchase of a new automobile, with the government giving dealersrebates for the ‘clunker’ trade value.

But a funny thing happened on the way to sealing the deals – theprogram ran out of money.

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After only one week … when it was envisioned to lastpotentially until Nov. 1.

The situation has resulted in a “clusterclunk,” with lawmakersscrambling Friday to try and find money to keep the program going -at least for a while longer – and dealers unsure about what to dowith customers wanting to use the program to buy a new car. TheHouse of Representatives approved adding $2 billion to the programthat was started on a $1 billion budget.

Obviously, someone seriously underestimated the clunkerprogram’s popularity. People know a good deal when they seeone.

The government’s, ahem, “successful” management of the clunkersprogram leads to questions about how it could oversee anotherprogram making frequent headlines these days.

Per President Barack Obama’s wishes, government plans to reformthe nation’s health care system have been racing toward the finishline like an out-of-control SUV. Thankfully, some in Congress -most notably “Blue Dog” Democrats – have been able to apply alittle brake pressure to this reckless ambition.

Compromise health care legislation was emerging Friday in aHouse committee, the last of three to take up the measure. Panelpassage would set up the bill for consideration by the full Housewhen lawmakers return in September after their traditional summerbreak.

U.S. senators, though, were still having trouble coming to anagreement on their version of the bill.

Obama had wanted a health care reform bill ready to sign by thisweekend, so the delay to September is an indication that at leastsomeone is listening to constituent concerns about the massivegovernment overhaul plan.

Projections on the plan have it costing $1.5 trillion over 10years, although some nonpartisan observers doubt the costs will bethat low, and that projected savings to offset the costs will notbe realized.

The reason for that should be obvious.

If millions who were previously uninsured are now insured on thegovernment’s dime, they are sure to make more use of “free” healthcare options that suddenly become available to them. That’s a dealmany people would have trouble turning down.

Did the same people who predicted the clunkers program’spopularity also make projections on the number of people who fallinto this category? If so, then cost projections would seem to bewoefully low and the consequences far more damaging than confusionover how a new car would be paid for.

Other questions involve where the new doctors will come from tohandle this sudden influx of new patients and what level of carecan all patients expect if the reform plan passes. There is alsothe issue of a government insurance plan competing against privateinsurers and the negative consequences if those private insurersare forced out of business.

There is little disagreement over the need for changes toimprove the country’s health care system. But changes must beconsidered in a thorough, reasoned and well thought-out manner.

The American people cannot afford a clunker catastrophe onhealth care reform.