The bogus Republican claim that Obamacare is a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.

Commentary about business and finance.
March 9 2010 5:37 PM

What "Government Takeover"?

The bogus Republican claim that Obamacare is a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.

There have been lots of absurdities in the debate—such as it is—about health care reform. There's the hypocrisy of people dependent on government-run health care complaining about government-run health care. And now comes the Republican canard that the current health care reform proposal constitutes a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. Here are Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina making precisely that argument.

First, the proposed health care reform does not take over the system in any sense. Much to the chagrin of progressives, the bills under consideration don't contain a public option and don't provide for a single payer. In fact, they provide subsidies for millions of people to purchase private insurance.

Second, such statements reveal how pathetically little many of our policymakers and pundits understand American health care spending. We're already halfway toward socialized medicine, but not because of Obamacare. (Here's a column I wrote about this in December 2006.) Over the last couple of decades, as the private sector has done a miserable job controlling costs, as employers have felt less and less compelled to offer health care benefits as a condition of employment, as the population has aged, and as the government created new health care entitlements, the government has been slowly assuming a higher portion of health care spending in the United States—or "taking it over."

Check out Table 123 in the CDC's big annual report. In 1990, health care expenditures in the United States were split, 60-40, between the private and public sectors. By 2000, the ratio had fallen to 55.9-44.1. In other words, in the 1990s, a period in which Republicans controlled the House for six years, the share of health spending controlled by the government rose by 10 percent. The trend continued in the period from 2000 to 2008, when Republicans controlled the White House and largely controlled Congress. The recession boosted the poverty rate, making more people eligible for Medicaid, and led to the reduction of millions of payroll jobs, which led to losses in job-related insurance. * By 2008, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, private health care expenditures had fallen to 52.7 percent and public had risen to 47.3 percent. In pretty much every year of the Bush administration, the government "took over" a greater chunk of the health care sector. And many of the Republicans who are complaining about reform proposals today didn't utter a peep. In fact, they helped the process along by voting for the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003. (Hat tip to Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic for the references.)

CMS also notes that thanks to these trends, public spending will soon outpace private spending—even in the absence of significant reform. "As a result of more rapid growth in public spending, the public share of total health care spending is expected to rise from 47 percent in 2008, exceed 50 percent by 2012, and then reach nearly 52 percent by 2019."

So, to reiterate, we're already half way toward fully socialized medicine. The government has already taken over one-twelfth of the economy—and more every day. That's the status quo the opponents of reform are defending.

Correction, March 10, 2010: The original sentence mistakenly referred to Medicare instead of Medicaid. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Become a fan of Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough, So They Added Self-Immolation

Why Hillary Clinton and Other Democrats Are Shrewd to Frame All Issues As “Women’s Issues”

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.