Obamacare Predicted to Cause Massive Rise in Health Care Costs, But is the Diagnosis Legit?


It’s official. Health care premiums may rise when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014. Higher risk pools and broadening health benefits are to blame. What will this surge look like?

"Everything is speculation. I think there's likely to be some shifting in the markets,” remarked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the White House on Wednesday.

The veil of uncertainty surrounding Obamacare has only grown in intensity as its day of reckoning approaches. Indeed, nobody is sure of the effects on premiums, debt, or small businesses. At the same time, other factors, like the potential for medical innovation, have been left completely unaccounted for. Either way, the ACA is not going anywhere.

In the face of this, that are reasons to believe health care will see improvements in its framework. Recent data shows that since 2008, health care spending growth has diminished to its lowest rate in fifty years. Industry experts have pointed to structural adjustments, such as financial incentives to reduce wasteful treatments and re-hospitalization rates. Other advances, including trends towards “self-diagnosis” online suggest that these rates may be here to stay.

Meanwhile, startup Watsi launched the world’s first crowdfunding platform for health care. Thirteen medical institutions are already using the service, which raises funds for expensive surgical procedures.

Let’s imagine that Obamacare and its side effects add $6.2 trillion in debt over the next 75 years, as was suggested last month by the Government Accountability Office, which critiqued Obamacare’s cost control mechanisms as unrealistic. The GAO also reported, however, that health care’s relative contribution to the deficit would be 1.5% less than it is now.

Beyond the fact that Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) commissioned the GAO report, assessments on this time scale are reflective of the many traps American policymakers fall into. Seventy-five years ago, there was no polio vaccine, AIDS did not exist, and penicillin — the world’s first antibiotic, had just hit the market. It is as far-fetched today to suggest that we could account for the state of medicine in 2090.

But even the Congressional Budget Office’s 20-year timescale is a stretch. A decade ago, the so-called Lindbergh operation allowed surgeons based in New York to operate on a patient in Strasbourg, France using remote control robots. Medical technology has grown to the point where borders could conceivably become irrelevant, while the internet promises to make doctor-patient interactions more efficient.

For the federal government, the heart of the problem is twofold: deficit reduction and social responsibility. Which is more important?

Democrats contend that Obamacare will both relieve debt burdens and improve social equality. Conservative analysts have argued that Obamacare will only dig the deficit grave deeper but would prefer to wait and deal with the problem later. Can we have both? The answer remains to be seen. One thing we do know, is that the longer we wait to take action and allow the deficit to linger, the more difficult it will be to overcome.

Short-term sacrifices are necessary for long-term gains. With debates continuously circling around circumstantial evidence, the only certainty is that on January 1, 2014, virtually every American will be insured.