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Obamacare is still vulnerable

November 18, 2012

By MICHAEL CANNON

President Obama has won reelection, and his administration has asked state officials to decide by Friday, November 16, whether their state will create one of Obamacare's health-insurance "exchanges." States also have to decide whether to implement the law's massive expansion of Medicaid. The correct answer to both questions remains a resounding no.

State-created exchanges mean higher taxes, fewer jobs, and less protection of religious freedom. States are better off defaulting to a federal exchange. The Medicaid expansion is likewise too costly and risky a proposition. Republican Governors Association chairman Bob McDonnell (R.,Va.) agrees, and has announced that Virginia will implement neither provision.

There are many arguments against creating exchanges.

First, states are under no obligation to create one.

Second, operating an Obamacare exchange would be illegal in 14 states. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have enacted either statutes or constitutional amendments (or both) forbidding state employees to participate in an essential exchange function: implementing Obamacare's individual and employer mandates.

Third, each exchange would cost its state an estimated $10 million to $100 million per year, necessitating tax increases.

Fourth, the November 16 deadline is no more real than the "deadlines" for implementing REAL ID, which have been pushed back repeatedly since 2008.

Fifth, states can always create an exchange later if they choose.

Sixth, a state-created exchange is not a state-controlled exchange. All exchanges will be controlled by Washington.

Seventh, Congress authorized no funds for federal "fallback" exchanges. So Washington may not be able to impose Exchanges on states at all.

Eighth, the Obama administration has yet to provide crucial information that states need before they can make an informed decision.

Ninth, creating an exchange sets state officials up to take the blame when Obamacare increases insurance premiums and denies care to the sick. State officials won't want their names on this disastrous mess.

Tenth, creating an exchange would be assisting in the creation of a "public option" that would drive domestic health-insurance carriers out of business through unfair competition.

Eleventh, Obamacare remains unpopular. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only 38 percent of the public supports it.

Twelfth, defaulting to a federal exchange exempts a state's employers from the employer mandate — a tax of $2,000 per worker per year (the tax applies to companies with more than 59 employees, but for such companies that tax applies after the 30th employee, not the 59th). If all states did so, that would exempt 18 million Americans from the individual mandate's tax of $2,085 per family of four. Avoiding those taxes improves a state's prospects for job creation, and protects the conscience rights of employers and individuals whom the Obama administration is forcing to purchase contraceptives coverage.

Finally, rejecting an exchange reduces the federal deficit. Obamacare offers its deficit-financed subsidies to private health insurers only through state-created exchanges. If all states declined, federal deficits would fall by roughly $700 billion over ten years.

For similar reasons, states should decline to implement Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court gave states that option. All states should exercise it.

Medicaid is rife with waste and fraud. It increases the cost of private health care and insurance, crowds out private health insurance and long-term-care insurance, and discourages enrollees from climbing the economic ladder. There is scant reliable evidence that Medicaid improves health outcomes, and no evidence that it is a cost-effective way of doing so.

My colleague Jagadeesh Gokhale estimates that expanding Medicaid will cost individual states up to $53 billion over the first ten years. That's before an emboldened President Obama follows through on his threats to shift more Medicaid costs to states.

Neither the states nor the federal government have the money to expand Medicaid. If all states politely decline, federal deficits will shrink by another $900 billion.

Now is not the time to go wobbly. Obamacare is still harmful and still unpopular. The presidential election was hardly a referendum, as it pitted the first person to enact Obamacare against the second person to enact it. Since the election, many state officials are reaffirming their opposition to both implementing exchanges and expanding Medicaid.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.

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