Following her “summer of discontent,” Hillary Clinton is feeling the Bern. Vermont’s self-avowed socialist Senator, who has become Hillary’s primary rival on the Democrat side of the presidential race, Bernie Sanders is rapidly becoming the frontrunner in New Hampshire and on the march in Iowa, partly because Hillary Clinton illegally sent classified information to a secret email address and partly because she barely appears to be a human being.
Sanders’ rise has led Hillary to begin sprinting to the left, for instance vowing to put employers “in jail” for “wage theft,” just the kind of rhetoric that will help drive economic growth (not). But one of the more interesting areas the two are jousting for left wing supremacy is over setting price controls on pharmaceutical drugs.
Clinton, who, don’t forget, came up with the infamous “Hillarycare” plan in the 1990s that was even to the far left of Obamacare, started the bidding earlier this year by lacing her rhetoric with euphemisms for price controls like “premium caps,” “cost caps,” and so on. Why is it that Democrats always have to come up with misleading catch phrases for their policy ideas?
Now Sanders has one-upped Hillary, announcing plans to release legislation setting price controls to counteract “outrageous profits” of the drug companies that invent cures that would have been considered miracles only a few years ago. Even President Obama is getting in on the action, since apparently Obamacare wasn’t enough for him. In his latest budget, he added price controls for the first time.
In all three cases, the push is thoroughly cloaked in disingenuous, evasive rhetoric you need a liberal-to-human translation to understand it. So here’s my attempt. Sanders says that he wants to let the government “negotiate better prices” to save money. First of all, the United States federal government wouldn’t be “negotiating” anything; they’d be setting prices subject to the whims of federal bureaucrats. The whole enterprise would be steeped in corruption and political favors as Washington officials get to decide which drugs live or die by arbitrary measures.
This is even more stupid when you realize how the current process works – with an actual market mechanism to keep prices down through competition. Under Medicare Part D, patients pick from an insurance provider based on premium, service and other factors. To keep their costs down, those providers have every incentive to keep costs down. It’s actually because the government is explicitly prohibited from interfering with that process that it has been allowed to work.
And it has worked. Both premiums and program costs came in below estimates. For example, the Congressional Budget Office predicted Part D would cost $99 billion in 2013. The actual tab was only $50 billion – roughly half of the estimate. To use Barack Obama’s favorite word, that’s unprecedented. As a rule, government entitlements don’t come in under budget.
But this is the program that Clinton, Sanders and Obama want government to get its grubby little hands on. For once, a government program works and they want to mess it up. Conservatives must tell them: you’ve done enough damage already!