March 28, 2010 in Opinion

Note to AGs: Break a leg

By The Spokesman-Review

What if the mandate to buy health insurance ends up being a trapdoor to a European-style health care system? It could happen, and here’s how it would play out.

Democrats, who didn’t have enough support for a single-payer plan or one run by nonprofit insurers, have cobbled together a bill that forces Americans to buy insurance. In exchange for having millions more customers, insurance companies have agreed not to fight popular provisions that bar them from rejecting customers for pre-existing conditions and suddenly dropping coverage on people who have paid their premiums.

However, 14 state attorneys general, including Rob McKenna of Washington and Lawrence Wasden of Idaho, have vowed to test the constitutionality of this mandate.

Let’s say they succeed.

Goodbye, mandate; hello … well, this is where it gets interesting. Without the mandate, insurance companies would have to raise rates significantly to handle all of those new customers teeming with pre-existing conditions. These are people who tend to need health care because they have chronic conditions or other ailments that are detrimental to an insurance company’s bottom line. Plus, there might be people who buy coverage after getting sick, so insurers won’t profit from the healthy years.

Remember, under this bill, insurers cannot drop coverage and they cannot place a lifetime spending cap on customers. So it’s raise rates or go out of business.

Now, we all know how unpopular annual premium increases have been. After all, they’ve gone up by more than 130 percent over the past 10 years, leaving wage hikes in the dust. It wouldn’t be politically palatable to exacerbate this condition. Plus, the dream of controlling health care costs would turn into a nightmare.

So, what about gutting insurance reforms and returning to the way things are today? Well, if the legal process were to move at its typical glacial speed, Americans would have gotten used to popular provisions of health care reform. What politician is going to want to lead the charge to remove young adults from their parents’ health care plans? Or reopen the “doughnut hole” in coverage for prescription drugs for seniors? Or reinstate an insurance company’s ability to reject customers for pre-existing conditions?

A more likely outcome is that insurance companies exit the health care market, because they can’t make enough money. And who would fill the vacuum? Nonprofits or the government, which is precisely how it’s done in every other industrialized nation, where costs are significantly lower, everyone gets health care and quality is comparable. To me, this has always made the most sense, but I’m guessing that’s not the outcome these attorneys general have in mind.

Initially, I wasn’t pleased to see these actors’ entrance onto the political stage. But upon further review, I think I’ll just wish them good luck.

How low can we go? The Tiger Woods saga has been an epic embarrassment … for journalists.

“How sorry are you? Can you describe the shame? You’ve said you’re sorry, do you think that’s enough? Could you look into the camera and say you’re sorry … really, really sorry? What would your father think? What should the world’s children think? Sure you’ve said you’re sorry, but are there any new developments on the contrition front?

“If you could eat your mistakes, would they be a Fatburger or a side salad? Have you bogeyed or double bogeyed this portion of your life? Would you accept an endorsement from the board game Sorry!?

“I wish we had more time, because there are so many questions about your epic moral meltdown that we haven’t touched on. Such as, what is the depth of your sorrow in nautical terms? Are you the Capt. Nemo of sorry? Would you say you’re stuck in a mental Mariana Trench? If so, which club would you use to try to salvage par?”

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026

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