That cry you heard on the night of March 21, when the 216th vote was cast in favor of President Obama’s “healthcare reform,” was the sound of insurance executives rejoicing before lighting their cigars with $1,000 bills.  As Time reported on March 24, “Health insurers have long argued for tougher government mandates that would require more of those who are generally healthy to get health insurance, which helps spread the risk in the pool of insured.”  “Spreading the risk” is actuarial-speak for “increasing profits.”  Just as Big Pharma was the chief beneficiary of President Bush’s Medicare prescription coverage bill, so Big Insurance has Barack Obama to thank for their coming years of plenty.

And thank him they will, as well as the senators and congressmen who voted for the bill.  But don’t worry about those who voted against it; the insurance companies will hold no grudges.  They will spread their newfound wealth throughout the halls of Congress to ensure that no future healthcare reform will undermine their privileged position.

Of course, the Republicans who opposed the bill knew that, which is why they spent all of their time talking about abortion and other side issues rather than attacking the biggest corporate-welfare plan in American history.  When all is said and done, this gift to the insurance companies will dwarf the bailouts of the banks and the auto industry.  So the Republicans had to pull their punches, because they wanted to make sure that they would get their cut of the cash, too.

And it won’t be the insurance companies alone who are spreading the campaign contributions around Washington, D.C.  In a show of true bipartisanship, the Democrats threw in plenty of pork for Big Pharma as well, closing some gaps in Bush’s Medicare prescription coverage, requiring employers to provide drug benefits, and keeping Chinese-made drugs out of the American market (because, after all, the bill was about lowering healthcare costs).  The drug companies will show their gratitude, too.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Big Pharma and Big Insurance have been greasing the skids in capitals national and state for years, and, as Timothy P. Carney pointed out in the Washington Examiner, President Obama “had received more money from drug companies and health insurance companies than any politician in the history of the country.”

The big losers, of course, are the businesses that face fines if they do not provide adequate health insurance to their employees (Caterpillar estimates that the legislation will cost the company $100 million, which likely means that its next plant will be built in Mexico or China rather than in Illinois), and those who are self-employed or work for small businesses exempt from the requirement to provide insurance.  Like the businesses, they will be fined unless they purchase health insurance.

In the worst position will be those who do not currently have health insurance because they truly cannot afford it.  They will be eligible for tax credits to make their mandatory insurance more affordable, but those tax credits will be nonrefundable, so if they owe very little or nothing in taxes, the credits will do them little to no good.  They still won’t be able to afford health insurance, but now they will be forced to pay a fine—a minimum of $95 or one percent of their income (whichever is higher) in the first year, ratcheting up to a minimum of $695 or two percent of their income by 2014.

Come this fall, the Republicans will be able to campaign safely against the new law, and they will undoubtedly succeed in picking up a significant number of seats in the House and possibly the Senate.  But they will never make any serious attempt to repeal this legislation.  And by 2012, the opposition of those voters who are eligible for tax credits will have died down.  Those who will be fined because they truly cannot afford insurance are among the least likely to vote anyway.  President Obama staked his political future on this vote, and he is more likely now to be elected to a second term (after another campaign financed, of course, by significant donations from Big Insurance and Big Pharma).

As awful as a single-payer national healthcare system would likely be, the United States has adopted something worse.  The only consolation that those of us who oppose both Big Government and Big Business can look forward to is the coming consternation of those liberals who sincerely believe that ObamaCare is an attack on the “criminal” and “evil” insurance companies and the first step toward a single-payer system.  It won’t take long for them to realize that it is, rather, a major step backward from what they truly desire.

A single-payer system could only come at the expense of the insurance companies, and they are never going to give up the great gift that Obama and his colleagues have handed them, on a silver platter lined with 30-40 million new insurance premiums.  The crumbs from their table that will fall into the campaign coffers of both parties will be enough to make sure that any additional healthcare reform will never threaten to put out the insurance executives’ cigars.