Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 19, 2013

Do Social Security and Medicare show that Obamacare can be successful?

— — The loyal defenders of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) keep pointing to Social Security and Medicare as examples of successful government programs whenever someone points out that government doesn’t do anything very well. The nearly perfect record of dismal performance in federal programs is a key reason that critics doubt that the massively flawed rollout of health insurance reform lovingly referred to as “Obamacare” will eventually turn into a success.

Liberal commentator Juan Williams proudly notes how “popular” both Social Security and Medicare are, citing them as having received 70 percent support among those asked whether they like the programs or not. But just because lots of people like a given federal program doesn't mean it is a beneficial or successful program.

It is certainly true that Social Security and Medicare are very popular and proponents vigorously oppose balancing the budgets of the two programs by reducing benefits. But, again, by the “popularity” standard, programs that create dependency like welfare, food stamps and free cell phones are successes, too.

However, reality paints a far different, and much less rosy picture of Social Security and Medicare.

These programs are not giveaways funded by taxpayers, they are funded primarily by payroll taxes on employers and the employees who benefit from them. Even so, because of mismanagement and a failure to adapt to changes in demographics, both programs are broken and broke, running annual deficits.

This is the typical sort of success we find in “successful” government programs, and we have to wonder if there isn't a better solution to most problems the government thinks it can solve. And the answer is, “yes, there is.” The private sector can do it better, as evidenced by multitudes of successes over our 230-plus-year history.

What too often happens is that when government sees the private sector not completely solving a problem, it thinks it can do better, and a new federal program is born. But the ultimate result is that the federal government does no better at trying to solve the problem than the private sector, and often does much worse.

In contrast to the self-funding process involving the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, other programs give handouts to both those who need help and to those who really don’t need it, and these recipients pay little or nothing in taxes to support the giveaways.

These programs are rife with waste, fraud and abuse, because government does not manage them efficiently. You can make a very good argument that government is inherently unable to manage these expansive programs competently.

Giving people money is one of the first priorities of politicians; it’s how they buy popularity, which translates to votes.

But as examples go, Social Security and Medicare, while intended to be self-sustaining without support from general tax revenue, are not examples of good government programs because they have been mismanaged and neglected.

Social Security began running a deficit in 2010, will run a deficit near $75 billion this year and the projected deficit will reach $344 billion in 2035 if something isn’t done. Social Security is beginning to fail in its ability to take care of seniors because government has failed to properly operate the program.

A panel determines Medicare reimbursements, a panel that meets in secret and relies heavily on the recommendations of the American Medical Association. Many doctors already do not treat Medicare patients because the low reimbursements don’t cover costs. Medicare providers have to balance low Medicare payments by shifting lost dollars to insured patients.

So that’s a brief glimpse into Juan Williams’ idea of successful government programs. Is this what the ACA also promises, or will it somehow be different?

Even if we believe the ACA is a good idea, even if it had been competently designed and implemented, and even if we overlook the disgraceful manner in which it was created and jammed through Congress before being read by the Democrats who enacted it, it is still a government program that supposes it will be more effective at running 18 percent of the nation's economy, and one of the most important personal concerns Americans have, than the private sector.

And now $716 billion will be taken out of Medicare to fund Obamacare, meaning reimbursements and senior care will suffer, or the deficit will increase.

Obamacare attempts to do by force what Republicans attempted to do by choice through initiatives focused on the problem areas of the then-current system, and Democrats opposed and defeated those efforts.

Despite Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ phantasmagoric redefining the fines imposed by Obamacare as taxes, the U.S. Constitution did not intend for, and does not authorize government to commandeer one-sixth of the economy.

Those who think government is the answer to everything need to remember that the only reason there is a government of the United States of America is because the people — remember “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” — created it by assigning government limited powers in certain specific areas.

It is perverse in the extreme for the people now to be controlled by that which they voluntarily created.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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