Barring some unforeseen turn of events, President Obama’s long-awaited and much-debated plan to reform health care is about to become the law of the land. Heading into the weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was predicting passage of the $940 billion bill by the House of Representatives, possibly as early as today.

Passage of the bill won’t end the debate, of course – and it certainly won’t silence critics of the idea that the best way to solve our nation’s health care problems is to get the federal government more involved. The unsolicited views of two persons hardly constitute an opinion poll, but I heard last week from a pair of small-business operators who I believe speak for many Americans in their distaste for the looming changes to our health care system.

One said that if the new law forces him to provide health insurance for his employees, he will close his business, which employs a couple of full-time and several part-time workers.

The other, owner of an inn, said he opposes the health care bill because he believes the issue is one better handled by states, and by opening up competition – particularly across state lines.

The impact of health care reform on private business is of special concern to me because I own two newspaper companies, one here and one in Pennsylvania. In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., we pay approximately 75 percent less for virtually the same insurance coverage for more than 200 employees. In Maine, we have more than 400 but the cost difference is clearly disproportionate.

Here in part is what Gorham innkeeper Matt Mattingly wrote to me:

“Last week, I used Anthem’s online quote system to provide a quote for my family. I chose an individual policy in Maine with a $5,000 deductible, quoted at about $17,000 a year. So I changed the state in which I live to Virginia. A nearly identical policy with the same deductible from Anthem in Virginia was quoted at $4,400 per year. How can that be? The same policy from the same company with a $12,600 difference is a bit hard to understand.

“As I began to search for the reason, I noticed that Virginia’s mandated loss on individual policies is 45 cents to 60 cents per dollar of premium paid. That means that their ‘profit margin’ is 40 percent to 55 percent on individual policies, not the 0 percent profit margin here in Maine.

“The big question is: Why would you regulate a business so greatly that it ensures the rates will be so high that no one can afford them? Why? The only reason is that you are trying to force as many people as possible into the ranks of the uninsured. If so, why would a government want to do that? Because it justifies a larger government-run plan to ‘take care of’ everyone who can’t afford their own insurance. See the ugly circle. The regulation in Maine was never meant to protect us. It was to justify a huge government program.

“Fact: Maine has no real competition. Fact: Virginia has dozens of companies competing. It’s very simple. If you want to reform health care, you first reform the legislation that governs it and see what real changes can be made.

“If operating a health care system is prohibitively expensive, then let the government pay for the million-dollar piece of equipment for the hospital so they don’t pass along the cost to us. Boy, would that be something simple. Underwrite the big expensive equipment that you and I need for great quality care. Even a nonprofit hospital has to pay for its expenses. Those expenses are paid by you and me. Take those large expenditures out of the equation and overnight we have lowered the cost of health care. Let the hospitals take the cost of the equipment and use it to pay for care of those who need it. Let competition take place and overnight, again, we have lowered the cost of health care.

“If we want reform, look no further than Augusta. Protest against those who are directly impacting the care of Mainers and force them to show even the slightest concern for the citizens. Augusta must change or we will have no choice but to change them. Change the philosophy or change the people.

“Disclaimer: I have no health insurance and pay out of pocket for all care.”

More than likely, Mr. Mattingly’s arguments will be overridden by the national legislation, but his example points out the inequity in insurance rates from state to state.

The national debate about health care reform is likely to continue throughout the country and might even become a state’s rights issue, even after Washington theoretically puts the issue to rest with passage of what many are calling “Obamacare.”

There is no question that thousands and thousands of Americans now uninsured will have health insurance under the new law and, in principle, it’s hard to criticize that result.

But it’s equally hard to believe that this country can afford $940 billion to reduce the ranks of the uninsured and overhaul the health care system – even though a last-minute analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimates the reform will actually reduce federal budget deficits.

The word “estimates” is crucial here. Most budgets are “guesstimates,” at best. They are constantly revised, particularly in the economic fantasy land known as Washington, D.C.

Uncertain as the cost of the health care package and its effects on the overall economy may be, there is clarity on one point.

President Obama took the lead on this issue and, in the final analysis, he led effectively. He showed persistence and determination in delivering in a big way on a big campaign promise. He has accomplished something that no modern-day president has been able to achieve.

Give him credit for that.

There are many who believe that Democrats who support the health care bill will be punished at the polls – in the November elections this year, and beyond.

And there is a growing number of skeptics who are beginning to see Obama as the reincarnation of President Jimmy Carter, a one-termer widely viewed as one of our worst chief executives.

I fear the potential cost of this plan.

Our newspaper in Pennsylvania and its employees spend about $800,000 a year on health insurance. Our split is about 66 percent paid by the company and 34 percent by employees.

In Maine, our company spends $3,181,805 per year and the employees pay $795,451. Our split is 80/20.

We face this cost every January when we turn on the company lights for the coming year. Our business recovery in Maine is encouraging, but not without pain. A rise in health care costs would obviously be unsettling for us.

As concerned as I am about the future economic impact of this bill, I also know it is time to stop grousing and second-guessing.

Health care reform as prescribed by Obama is on the verge of becoming a historical fact; it’s time for all of us to get on with our lives. We have faced bigger challenges than paying for health care reform. It’s best we accept it, and go back to work.

History will now decide if President Obama’s determination to enact this landmark legislation will be remembered as brilliant leadership or political folly.

 

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:

[email protected]