Why the Reviled Tea Party Was Right about Obamacare
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The Fiscal Times
October 9, 2013

Before we march the Tea Party off to the Guillotine, let’s remember what fired up that unruly crew to begin with. In the midst of the economic crisis, the government went on a spending spree, shelling out hundreds of billions for TARP, Cash for Clunkers, the Stimulus – the list seemed endless. Our nation’s debt and deficits soared; the financial crisis became a fiscal crisis.

And then came Obamacare. President Obama’s signature healthcare bill promised even higher deficits (no one but Paul Krugman believed you could provide free healthcare to 30 million people and save money), more government intrusion, and possible chaos. The Tea Party was born.

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Concern about the nation’s finances, and about the steroidal growth of government are not only reasonable, but widely shared. A recent Gallup poll put concern about the federal government’s outsized role at a record level, with 60 percent thinking that Washington has “too much power.” A NBC/WSJ poll from one month ago (before the recent shutdown hysteria) showed Americans opposed to raising the debt ceiling/, by a margin of two-to-one. The Tea Party, on such issues, does not stand alone.

The fight over Obamacare centers on the program’s expected disruption in our nation’s healthcare industries, and to Americans’ daily lives. It also focuses on the taxpayer burden of another mammoth entitlement program, and the possible costs of mismanagement.

Such concerns are fed by stories about fraud and waste in other government programs, such the recent “Sixty Minutes” segment on our nation’s Social Security Disability Insurance program. The CBS TV show, relying on a new report from the Government Accountability Office and investigations by Senator Tom Coburn, revealed systematic abuse of the program costing taxpayers billions of dollars – waste that the government has been slow (if not unwilling) to eliminate.   

There are 8.8 million Americans today, almost 6 percent of our workforce, who claim that because of a physical ailment they cannot work. If you include dependents, that means 10.8 million people are receiving assistance. As Dr. Coburn has said, “It is unbelievable that 1 in 20 Americans are truly disabled…. If you read the definitions in the Act, you will be astounded because one of the requirements is that you cannot perform any job that exists in the U.S. economy.”    

This crowd was paid $137 billion from the Social Service Administration last year, and took home an additional $80 billion from Medicare, since those receiving disability payments automatically qualify for benefits. As the 60 Minutes story pointed out, that figure eclipses what the government spent last year on the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Labor Department combined.   

The GAO report reviewed the disability rolls from December 2010, and found 36,000 people who hauled in $1.29 billion through the program, even though they were working at the time. The Social Security Agency was able to detect these potential overpayments by comparing their sign-ups with wage postings from the National Directory of New Hires – another government agency 

This seems like a “duh” moment, but one the SSA has resisted in the past. The SSA has claimed that such double-checking would not be “cost effective”, even though they did not deny that more scrutiny would cut down on fraud, and that spending on oversight would yield about $1.40 for every dollar spent.  

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This is not the first time the SSA has been prodded to check on ineligible workers. In 2010 the GAO conducted another study, which showed about 1 percent of recipients were violating work rules – including 1,500 federal employees who were making off with $1.7 million per month!

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Disability rolls have expanded every month since January 1997 and have outpaced the growth of Americans holding jobs, mainly because the financial rewards are compelling. People claiming disability today receive $1,130 per month – only some $2,000 less on an annualized basis than someone working a full-time minimum wage job.  

Tea Partiers are not shocked by revelations that people are trying to scam the disability system or that our government is reluctant to repair its leaky faucets. As Dr. Coburn recently said on “CBS This Morning,” “Nobody wants to fix it. Nobody wants to fix the fraud in Medicare.”  They imagine that a government elected largely by recipients of its benevolence will be reluctant to turn off the spigots.  

Few deny that our government should help the truly needy. Many agree, moreover, that every American should have access to healthcare. However, the majority of Americans who were content with their doctors and insurance programs fear that Obamacare will damage our superb healthcare infrastructure.

Many also imagine that the cost of Obamacare will be considerably greater than advertised. In part, excess expenditures may derive from lax supervision. To again quote Dr. Coburn, “We have a new program coming out, the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare, and there's no income verification at all. So we know that's going to get defrauded to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, so why would we continue to do the same thing that put us in trouble that we're in?"

The program could also cost more than expected because it is fatally flawed. Some hint that Obamacare’s potential economic problems come from the frantic effort to sign up healthy young people. While we have heard breathless tales of the millions who have tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to log onto the government websites, we have heard little about what kinds of people have actually signed up.

Anecdotal evidence points to those receiving subsidies being top of the list; it is possible that the undoing of Obamacare is even now taking place.  If the Tea Party had a little more patience, the country might end up standing with them. At the least, they might spare them the guillotine.

After more than two decades on Wall Street as a top-ranked research analyst, Liz Peek became a columnist and political analyst. Aside from The Fiscal Times, she writes for FoxNews.com, The New York Sun and Women on the Web.