As I write this column, the ink is barely dry on President Obama's signature on the landmark health insurance package passed by the House on March 21. So it's premature to give any definitive answers on how this legislation will affect dairy producers, their families and employees.
One thing we do know is that the Republicans' strategy of "just say no” didn't work. When they refused to engage, the Democrats had to cut deals with their extreme left while keeping their centrist members from vulnerable districts in the fold. The result was the usual "herding cats” phenomenon. In the end, though, they got 'er done.
Now, the biggest unknown is cost. The Republicans say the legislation has no provisions that will stop the ever-rising cost of health insurance premiums. The Democrats argue that with some 30 million more folks in the insurance pools, costs will come down. I guess I'll believe that when I see it, but then, rising premiums under the old system were pricing more and more folks out of the pool.
We also know that people cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions or dropped once diagnosed with a disease or reaching a coverage cap. For dairy producers with back, hip and knee problems, this is no small benefit.
Large dairy operations, those with 50 or more employees, will now be required to provide health insurance for their employees and possibly for their families as well.
For those operations that already provide insurance, the legislation will level the playing field with neighbors who do not. The question again, however, is one of cost. Some of the estimates I've heard are downright scary—potentially as much as doubling labor costs.
The biggest benefit to health care passage is simply that perhaps now the President and Congress can get on with desperately need immigration reform and maybe even dairy policy. And the rest of us can get on with our lives.
Perhaps, too, the Republicans will realize that legis-lation can pass this Congress without their participation. Getting Republicans engaged in the process means Obama will have to govern from the center. Without that, you get bills like the health care package.
The health care bill
Comments from the Wall Street Journal
Comments from the New York Times