Most landmark legislation is defined by what it does, or what it will do. Antitrust laws, Social Security and Medicare fall into this category.

But for now at least, the new health care “reform” package, signed by President Obama today, may be best described not by what it is, but what it isn’t.

First of all, it isn’t health care reform, even though you’ll see the term used in every headline of every newspaper in the country. Yes, I know there are provisions that prevent insurers from pursuing some of the anti-consumer shenanigans practiced over the years. But the basic structure of the system remains in place.

Instead, this is a 2010 car body slapped on top of a 1960 Corvair chassis, with a few modifications and patches. The salesmen will tell you it’s new and improved, but it’s actually built on the flawed foundation of the for-profit health care insurance system. Drive it down the road at your own risk.

I should explain again, as I have in the past, that I don’t necessarily disagree with a system based on free market competition. But this package doesn’t increase competition, nor does it move us toward health care as a social benefit, as they have in many other countries.

Second, this is not a government takeover of health care. I realize that this is the mantra repeated daily by the Republican opposition, but that doesn’t make it so.

If an interviewer would ask House Minority Leader John Boehner: “How’s the weather in Washington today?” he’d say: “The weather would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the government is taking over health care.”

Ask Sen. Mitch McConnell if he thinks we should add more troops in Afghanistan, and he’d say: “Well, that’s up to the generals on the ground. But right now they’re very upset about the government takeover of health care.”

Under the plan, anyone who accesses health care – unless they can afford to pay out of pocket – must go through a private insurer. In what way does that constitute a government takeover of health care?

Quite the contrary, the government is delivering 32 million new customers to private insurers, most or all of them companies in which stockholders can reap the benefits. I’d be surprised if, after Obama signs the bill, employees of UnitedHealth and Aetna don’t form a congo line around their respective headquarters.

Third, this is not universal health care. The name of this bill is not, “No Patient Left Behind.” Tea Partiers need not worry. There will still be about 5 percent of the population that falls through the cracks, one way or another.

And consider this: The legislation may actually discourage people from purchasing coverage. Say you’re 30, and healthy. Since insurers can’t exclude customers because of pre-existing conditions, why not wait until there’s actually something wrong before you purchase coverage? Remember, penalties for not buying a policy have been whittled down so far that for many people they won’t even be a factor.

And finally number four: The new health care law will not be a magic carpet for Republican control of Congress in fall. Do you really think that a law that mostly takes effect in 2014 is going to be the central issue in November?

The Democrats are vulnerable, yes. On unemployment, for sure. Or the botched attempt at financial reform. But health care legislation? Doubtful.

My prediction: Memories of the contentious debate will fade like last year’s Oscar nominations.

Photo: President Obama sells the health care package in Ohio. (White House photo)

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