NEW YORK - Don't raise the bridge. Lower the river, divert the water, steamroll the riverbed, and install a bullet train as an "affordable" bridge substitute.
Such grandiose thinking is derailing ObamaCare at breakneck speed. Long after it has passed from the American body politic, ObamaCare will be remembered as a Smithsonian-grade specimen of what happens when too much government smothers a manageable problem.
Well before the (un)Affordable Care Act became law, Obama complained in August 2009 that "46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage." Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office forecast last May that, even if ObamaCare suddenly became as efficient as Swiss Federal Railways, 31 million Americans still will lack coverage in 2023. So, today's unfolding healthcare catastrophe will help - at best - just 15 million people. Given ObamaCare's 10-year outlay of $2.6 trillion, this equals $17,333 annually (or $1,444 per month) per net beneficiary.
This is an astonishing cost for such a concentrated benefit. However, rather than target these 15 million people, ObamaCare unleashes chaos on 315 million Americans. Already, some 5 million people, and counting, have seen their health plans cancelled. Others are watching their work hours get chopped from full time to part time. Even more are losing their jobs outright or simply not getting hired. Doctors increasingly are choosing golf and tennis over bureaucracy and disrespect.
Among the American workers whom the Employee Benefit Research Institute surveyed last September, 88 percent were somewhat to extremely satisfied with their health insurance. Why didn't ObamaCare just focus on the other 12 percent?
Atop its recurring inability to set priorities, Team Obama displays staggering managerial incompetence. HealthCare.gov is a $400 million misadventure in computer science. Its dysfunction surely helped limit October's ObamaCare enrollment to just 106,185 paying and non-paying participants - including a mere 26,794 in the federal exchanges - just 21.3 percent of Obama's 500,000 monthly goal.
Nevertheless, Obama considers this website novel.
"Just visit HealthCare.gov," Obama said in the Rose Garden on Oct. 1. "You can compare insurance plans, side by side, the same way you'd shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon."
David Axelrod, Obama's political guru, claimed on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Oct. 28: "This is the first time in history that you can make an apples-to-apples comparison about healthcare plans on line in front of you."
Obama, Axelrod, and their ilk need to escape their bubble. Websites that long pre-dated ObamaCare already help Americans shop for health insurance as if they were buying books or albums. Indeed, if the people who brought us HealthCare.gov had listened to me, they would have saved America millions and spared themselves embarrassment.
"Websites like ehealthinsurance.com could become the cornerstones for a thriving, private, national health-insurance market," I wrote in February 2010. "This is far more encouraging than Obamacare's creaky, Washington-driven 'exchange.'" Prospering since 1997, ehealthinsurance.com is what HealthCare.gov wants to be when it grows up.
Imagine if Obama simply had offered vouchers, or Health Stamps, to America's uninsured. Let's say each needy individual without coverage received $5,000 to purchase insurance. Those with severe conditions could receive additional support. They then would have visited ehealthinsurance.com and similar websites. The uninsured could compare prices and buy whatever plans suited their circumstances. So, post-menopausal women need not purchase birth control and maternity coverage, as ObamaCare mandates. Childless male 23-year-olds would not be forced to buy pediatric dental insurance, as ObamaCare requires.
At roughly 29 percent of ObamaCare's cost, this rational approach would have fulfilled Obama's promise to cover the uninsured. Conservatives would be pleased to see freedom and choice central to this arrangement. Those who like their healthcare plans could have kept their healthcare plans. Period. And ehealthinsurance.com would have let America avoid the humiliation of launching an unworkable website as the whole world was watching.
Obama could have enjoyed all of this. Instead, and ironically, his massive, statist scheme has soiled the reputation of big-government liberalism - perhaps for decades.
(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock@gmail.com)