Then the oil spill happened and health care was summarily dismissed from many of the 24-hour news cycles. Then again, I guess I should be feeling better now that the oil flow, at least for the moment, has been stopped.
But back to the health care reform bill. I don’t like to call the new law “Obama Care.” It was approved by Congress, and the same majority who sent the president to the White House also sent their senators and representatives to Washington . No, I prefer to call it by its rightful name; “ America ’s Affordable Health Choice Act of 2009.”
H.R. 3200, which was the assigned number the House version was given during the 111th Congress, sports the word affordable. That’s a word used car salesmen are always throwing around when the sales month is drawing to a close. It’s one of those diversion words that, above all other adjectives, tends to top the list of points we consider when preparing to spend our hard-earned cash. “Just don’t hit the pocketbook too hard and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Affordable is also an extremely relative term. To a guy making $36,000 a year affordable means not more than 10 percent of his gross annual income. To the guy making $360,000 year, affordable is the first guy’s annual salary.
Interesting that a Congress that approved bailouts in the trillions and put us in debt until around the year 2100 would use the word affordable. Is there anything affordable about the way our government spends money? Anyway, unlike millions of other Americans, I did review portions of the 1,017-page, 395,096-word bill that was signed by the president March 23.
Just Google health care bill and links to the text fill your computer screen. I got my copy from a House staffer’s website. Granted, I only hit the topics of interest to me. Since most farmers are like other small business owners, they rarely offer health insurance to their employees. We either employ seasonal workers, part time help or family members who have spouses who work off the farm primarily for health insurance benefits.
Employer-provided health insurance is quickly becoming the most important benefit for anyone looking for a job. A recent Hewitt survey of more than 500 prospective employees listed health insurance as their No. 1 concern. That says a lot when just 20 years ago starting salaries topped the list.
So if you ever wondered just what was in all those pages, here’s a sampling taken straight from the bill.
Under medical malpractice the law would award a five-year “demonstration” grant to states that develop, implement and evaluate alternatives to current tort litigations. Good luck with that. While the bill doesn’t explain what a demonstration grant is or how much money is involved, I have a sneaking suspicion the local trial lawyers association is standing by to crush that one like a last year’s volunteer corn in a grist mill.
In the Medicare section the bill would require pharmaceutical companies to provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap beginning in 2011 and begin phasing in federal subsidies for generics. Drug development in this country is something farmers understand. Ag chemical companies often develop products whose costs take years to recover. Introduced in 1996, Monsanto’s Roundup ready soybeans technology patent doesn’t expire until 2014. Beginning in 2015, the original Roundup Ready trait (RR1) will be available to other companies without royalty. No doubt Roundup generated hundreds of millions in revenues for Monsanto. But the company spends hundreds of millions a year protecting its investment around the world, and rightfully so.
When drug makers no longer have the ability to recover R&D costs by pricing a product based on investment, they’re less likely to put millions into new technology. The same would be true if ag chemical companies were mandated to cut the prices of their name-brand products by half. The bill also calls for new annual fees on the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.
If you’re a doctor you’d better not invest in any physician-owned hospitals if you’re looking for Medicare payments from your elderly patients. The law calls for a ban on new physician-owned hospitals in Medicare and to limit the growth of certain grandfathered physician-owned hospitals.
Doctors owning hospitals you say? Can that be? That’s as bad as a farmer owning a farm and a carpenter owning a cabinet shop. Who better than doctors to run at least the health care side of hospitals? Oh, this must be about money, not patient care.
In the area of taxes and changes to the tax code as it relates to health care costs, the bill calls for a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of any taxable medical device. Take that those of you who need scooters and walkers just to get around.
Finally, there’s one part of the bill that will in no way impact farmers, and for good reason. It seems someone slipped in a 10 percent tax on the amount you pay for indoor tanning services. Yes, the law singles out tanning salons.
Who needs them anyway? After all, everyone’s heard of the “farmers’ tan” and last time I checked those were free.