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April 25, 2013

Obama Rex

To the ancient Greeks, man had limited vision, making him prone to tragic mistakes. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Thebes is stricken with a plague that will only end when the murderer of Laius, its former king, is driven out. Oedipus, the new king, is unaware that he is both Laius’ son and murderer. When he first hears the truth, Oedipus denies it, mocking those with better vision. When the facts overwhelm him, he gouges out his eyes to symbolize his blindness.

Obamacare remains a seductive vision. But like the woman said, we had to pass Obamacare to see what was in it; and like Oedipus, we now see more clearly.

Societies that create wealth buy things other than food, shelter, and clothing. They like to buy medical care. The correlation between a society’s wealth and the life expectancy of its citizens is no mystery. The trick, then, is to create wealth.

Wealth creation requires sound money, healthy markets, property rights, reasonable regulation, and the rule of law. It requires an optimistic entrepreneurial class that believes its hard work and capital investments will pay off. When the entrepreneur confronts a task he does not want to do himself, a job is created, as long as the wage is worth his cost in time and money. When his costs are uncertain, he is afraid to hire.

Obamacare undermines nearly every fundamental of wealth and job creation. Call this tragedy “Obama Rex.” Five years into this recession, the economy is still down three million jobs; some economists are blaming the feared costs and uncertainties of Obamacare, even before full implementation of the law.

The poor are always the first victims in an economic downturn; they would rather have a job than another entitlement. Because the law is prolonging and deepening the recession, it is prolonging and deepening their misery.

Obamacare is already sapping businesses of the working capital needed to create wealth and jobs. Medical device companies are now paying a 2.3% tax on gross revenues. For the Indiana-based Cook Medical Group, this single tax represents 15% of profits, causing the company to shelve plans for five new manufacturing plants and 1500 jobs.

Obamacare is creating monopolies, undermining price competition. Hospitals are merging, and doctors are selling out to hospitals. According to Accenture, physician ownership of medical practices is now down to one in three. Medicare pays hospital-employed doctors more money for the same work, already estimated to be over one billion dollars per year. Studies show that employed doctors see fewer patients than entrepreneurial doctors. All roads are leading to less competition, higher costs, and decreased patient access.

Obamacare redefines insurance by abolishing lifetime caps and community rating. It allows patients to sign up after they get sick, like buying auto insurance after a wreck. It also redefines childhood. Picture dragging your 26 year-old from the basement to the pediatrician. Despite assurances that the law would lower costs, health insurance rates have jumped in the last three years. The Society of Actuaries predicts another thirty percent jump next year, a rosy estimate. United Health Group says rates could more than double for some individuals.

The Obama administration has granted some 2000 Obamacare waivers to numerous businesses, labor groups, and political cronies. More clarity on “fairness.” Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, tried shifting some of its workers to part time status to mitigate the damaging effects of the law. It reversed course under intense political pressure, perhaps more aptly termed American fascism. More clarity on “freedom.”

Obamacare’s worst provision is the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This committee, operating outside of normal Congressional oversight, will potentially be setting prices directly and indirectly for one sixth of our economy. Price-fixing always leads to scarcity. While the IPAB cannot legally ration care, it can refuse to pay for it, as if there is a difference.

As the wet blanket of Obamacare spreads over the nation, the limited, tragic vision of our leaders will be revealed. The Federal Reserve’s money presses will initially hide the costs of the law – the money spent and the lost revenues of economic stagnation. But when those costs are eventually passed to the states, already drowning under pension promises, the tragedy will come to an end, the king will have exited the stage, and the blind will see. And the poor will suffer.

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