Obamacare’s Gettysburg moment

Sherman FrederickStephens Media

President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the cemetery at the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863.

He wasn’t the keynote speaker. He only spoke for two minutes. The main speaker, Edward Everett, went on for two hours, yet we only remember Lincoln.

He began: “Four score and seven years ago,” and in just 10 sentences he elevated the battle, and the whole Civil War, to a higher cause. “These dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of those lessons of history that teach us that the bigger truth doesn’t always rest with the person who speaks the loudest or the longest. Sometimes it’s a simple, unexpected act that tells the real story.

I think that “Gettysburg moment” happened last week in the debate over Obamacare. The week began with the standard yelling back and forth.

From Republicans, “It’s a train wreck! Defund it!” From Democrats, “No, it’s working. Move forward!”

Then came Eileen Sheil. You wouldn’t know her. She’s the corporate communications director for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

What she said raised the argument over Obamacare to a higher level. She took us out of the realm of theoretical partisan politics and gave us a real-world glimpse of how American medical institutions — and by extension Americans — will surely suffer under Obamacare.

Ms. Sheil announced that because of Obamacare, the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s best health care providers, would slash up to 6 percent of its 2014 budget, put some 3,000 employees into early retirement, hold positions vacant longer and, if necessary, lay off employees.

Let that sink in. Just like that, the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic brought to bended knee by Obamacare. If this law can do that to one of our best medical institutions, what’s going to happen to the quality of our local hospitals? How will isolated, rural facilities cope?

It doesn’t get clearer. No matter how long advocates try to speak to us about the merits of Obamacare, it’s reality checks like the Cleveland Clinic announcement that cut to the chase.

A good indicator of what’s afoot came in a recent New York Times story, explaining how medical insurance companies plan to keep costs down for policies.

The Times said insurers plan to create small networks to keep entry-level premiums lower. The doctors and hospitals in those “skinny” networks will be pressured to charge less and less. Patients who require expensive specialists out of the “skinny” network (hello, Cleveland Clinic) will be forced to pay “astronomic” costs out of pocket.

Obamacare advocates contend that a “skinny” network is better than no network. And that’s no doubt true for those initially being forced to get health care under the new law. But the newly insured will quickly find out, as will people already insured and accustomed to wider networks, that ObamaCare will result in profound dissatisfaction — longer waits, scarcity of services and limited access to specialists.

The president himself has given long-winded defenses of Obamacare.

From the very halls of the Cleveland Clinic he told us such facilities are “models” that can show us how to maintain excellence and hold costs down.

Obviously, his law produced the opposite model. A 6 percent cut in the Cleveland Clinic’s budget is not a recipe for excellence.

As President Obama plays the role of Edward Everett, spending hours trying to lull us to sleep with fanciful oratory and unfulfilled promises, we’d be wise to keep our eyes open and fixed on the cuts at the Cleveland Clinic to understand the more perfect story.

There’s no health care freedom in this law. There’s only a march to medical mediocrity. Maybe worse.

Correction: Last week’s column included a quote from Warren Buffett that I said was made “last week.” It was actually made in an interview he gave in 2010.