Kneale: Obama as Ahab, Strapped to Moby Dick

So now it becomes clear: President Obama as Ahab, a political martyr wannabe who willfully straps himself to his own Moby Dick, that great white whale of a $1 trillion health-care overhaul.

Cost of healthcare
Lilli Day | Photodisc | Getty Images
Cost of healthcare

My guess is that ObamaCare will pass (insert bone-wracking shudder here). And, like Moby Dick plunging to the ocean’s depths, it will take with it Obama’s presidency and the Democrats’ control of Congress.

But it isn't the Obama presidency I worry about. If he chooses to sink himself with this bloated whale, so be it. Great experiment, thanks for playing, see ya, Cap’n.

It is the future of our nation that worries me. We can't afford this healthcare facelift, even at its stated price, and the actual cost will prove to be manifold times higher than Congress projects.

The frightening finances of Project Ahab are just the start. My bigger fear concerns the message it sends to the American people: That Government is the answer, and the People are weak and feckless. That profit is evil, and health care is a government-granted entitlement that must be handed to everyone—yet it should be funded by only the very few.

Our country was forged by steely self-reliance and stubborn individualism. Government, if it had to step in at all, was there to enforce the law and protect the People from imminent danger. Otherwise, we’re pretty good at fending for ourselves.

ObamaCare is predicated, in many ways, on the opposite bent: that only Government can protect us from rapacious, dishonest insurers and greedy drug companies and device makers; and we aren’t smart enough to make these health-care decisions ourselves.

For decades in this country, health-care coverage has been the responsibility of the individual. That is why health benefits became a plum perk in many jobs. Once it becomes, instead, a entitlement owed to us by government, we will pay a far bigger price.

Do you really want your government to force you to buy health insurance? If you refuse to pay up, you will have to pay the government a penalty of, say, $600 or $800 a year. What happened to my right to make my own bad choices?

And do you really want small-business owners punished by a new penalty tax if they decide against covering their employees? Guy I know owns six Dunkin' Donuts franchises in New Jersey, and he estimates that such a slap from the feds could cost him 15 percent of his profit growth every year.

That will stop him from hiring more workers in his stores.

The notion of health coverage as a government entitlement began to creep up on us in 1965, with the passage of Medicare. Suddenly, your own health insurance was no longer your responsibility once you hit age 65. Government promised to take care of it.

A disastrous decision. Now the Medicare and Social Security entitlement programs, over the next 75 years, expect to spend $46 trillion more than they take in (unless we double or triple payroll taxes). That makes our current $1.8 trillion annual budget deficit look trifling.

Now we are told 30 million more Americans (of an estimated 45 million uninsured people nationwide) should be added to these burdensome rolls. Presumably, the 15 million left bare are illegal aliens, but the Obama Administration favors making them legal residents.

In that case, wouldn’t they then qualify for ObamaCare, too? And wouldn’t that instantly raise costs by a huge 50 percent or an extra half a trillion dollars over the next decade?

We do need a fundamental facelift for health care, just not this one. We need surgical strikes aimed at narrower targets: the 30 million uninsured citizens and legal residents, and 15 million people who buy insurance on their own rather than get it as part of their compensation at work.

And we need to tackle $700 billion a year in unnecessary medical procedures and treatments, including more than $100 billion in unneeded tests and procedures conducted to insulate doctors against medical malpractice lawsuits.

Even then, medical costs will soar on simple math. We still face the biggest bulge in aging Baby Boomers heading onto the Medicare rolls, even as our work force shrinks, eventually, to just three workers for each retiree versus six workers 20 years ago.

Add to that the cruel paradox of high-tech health care. In other industries, advances reduce the costs of the technology, but in health care, the same advances INCREASE the costs because everybody wants to get the latest and greatest stuff.

ObamaCare isn’t the way to fix any of that—but surely it is the perfect path to even worse financial straits in the future. The question is whether anyone in the White House cares about any of that.

More Kneale ...