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Dismantle it, piece by piece

Posted: Friday, December 31, 2010

The American people have consistently said they fear government control over their health-care choices. And the more they learn about the health-care reform legislation approved earlier this year, the more they realize their fears are justified.

A strong majority objects to the mandate that citizens must have health insurance or pay penalties. Business owners are angry about having to file 1099s with the IRS to report purchases from every vendor totaling more than $600 in a year. And seniors object to new regulations leaked over Christmas similar to those that sparked fears of "death panels" in town hall meetings last summer.

President Obama has talked about the early provisions of the law to help people with pre-existing conditions get insurance, to allow 26-year-olds to stay on their parents' policies, and to make preventive care free to patients. Many people now believe these and other early steps constitute the reform legislation.

But there is more to come - $500 billion in new taxes, $575 billion taken out of Medicare, job-killing mandates on businesses and a mountain of new regulations that are sure to drive up health costs.

While the House will likely pass a bill to repeal the legislation early next year and the Senate might even follow, there is virtually no chance the president would sign it. Therefore, the only way Congress can protect people from this unpopular law is to try to dismantle it, piece by piece.

Congress can keep what works, including some of the early popular provisions, without turning our health sector over to the federal government. Here are three first steps:

• Repeal the individual mandate: A CNN poll conducted Dec. 17-19 shows that 60 percent of those surveyed oppose the mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance. Only 38 percent approved. But 100 percent of Americans will be affected.

It also is the focus of court challenges, with 21 states arguing the mandate is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in mid-December that the mandate represents an "unchecked expansion of congressional power" that "would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers." He said it is "neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution."

The American people seem to agree. That is why this provision should top the list in the new Congress. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the required health insurance will cost up to $20,000 for a working family. And if we don't buy it, we will be fined. There are better ways to solve the problem of the uninsured that don't involve defying the U.S. Constitution.

• Repeal the 1099 requirement: This provision has nothing to do with health care but was added at the last minute to raise $17 billion to pay for its massive new entitlement spending.

The National Federation of Independent Business says this will bury small businesses in an avalanche of paperwork. Repeal is the only option.

• Revoke regulations: Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., sponsored a provision in the health law to pay doctors to counsel Medicare patients about options for end-of-life care. But it was tossed out of the bill after town hall meetings erupted with fears of "death panels."

Over Christmas, we learned through an e-mail leaked from Blumenauer's office that the administration is planning an end-run around the law: It will simply allow the sessions through regulation.

Seniors rightly fear there is a potential conflict of interest if the government is paying for end-of-life counseling and also for our end-of-life health care.

Congress has the power to repeal regulations through the Congressional Review Act. This should be high on its list to repeal and replace a law that is going to become more and more unpopular as people learn more and more about it.

• Grace-Marie Turner is president and founder of the Galen Institute. Readers may write to her at Galen Institute, P.O. Box 320010, Alexandria, Va. 22320.



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