Friday, May 8, 2009

Health Care being considered in the Senate

Yesterday, I posted former Governor Mitt Romney's plan for providing a national, market-driven universal health care initiative. Two days earlier, the Senate Finance Committee heard testimonies from a wide panel that included executives from many health care providers. Next week, according to an Associated Press report, the committee will meet in closed session to consider three different versions of a government health plan.

This will be my third post on this subject. Those who have read my previous posts know that I'm in favor of a free market health care system, one that is run by doctors, patients, and the market, rather than a government-run system. That is a view held by many in the country, and I hope the committee will keep that squarely in mind, as well as all the pros and cons of any health care system, while they meet together.

The three versions the committee will debate include a Medicare-like system, run by the Health and Human Services department; a similar plan, but one run by an outside party so the government is not in direct control; and a plan that would call for individual states to create and provide plans for their residents.

I have to say, of the three, the third is the only one I could remotely see myself supporting. First of all, the HHS department is run by political appointees; meaning that any health care administered under such a plan would be shaped by the ideology of whatever Secretary, and therefore whatever President, we happen to have at the moment. The second plan I do not see as being much better. Even if the "outside party" is given full autonomy, which I frankly doubt, the government will still hold the purse strings. When your sole benefactor is the government, you do what the government tells you to do.

The third proposal seems more in line with conservative principles. After all, the Founders wanted a weak central government; as weak as possible without leaving the country in anarchy. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution clearly states that any powers not granted to the federal government would be retained by the states. That would seem to make the states responsible for the health care of their residents, anyway. However, if you support a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, then you may conclude that health insurance constitutes interstate commerce, and therefore it is Congress' responsibility to involve itself.

Some government-run health care advocates, as the article states, claim that the option would keep private insurance companies "honest". In the free market system, though, competition is what keeps companies "honest". If you're doing a poor job of insuring people's health, then a higher-quality, lower-cost company will take your place.

I'm going to share some excerpts from the testimonies given to members of the Senate Finance Committee. If you don't recognize the names of these people or even the companies they run, then I hope you'll recognize their sentiments:

Scott Serota, President and Chief Executive Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Washington, DC:

"With over 80 years of experience, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans offer individual, small employer, and large employer market products in every zip code. We also partner with the government in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Federal Employees Program. As such, the Blue System has a unique perspective on how to improve our health care system."


"We believe that the most effective way to expand coverage is to build on the employer-based system – which already provides coverage to more than 160 million people today. Our proposal, The Pathway to Covering America, seeks to expand coverage, rein in costs, and improve quality through five recommended steps:

1. Encourage research on what works by establishing a permanent, independent
comparative effectiveness research institute;
2. Change incentives to promote better care instead of more services;
3. Empower consumers and providers with information and tools needed to make more
informed decisions;
4. Promote health and wellness by encouraging healthy lifestyles to prevent disease and managing and coordinating the care of those with chronic illnesses; and
5. Foster public-private coverage solutions to make sure everyone is covered, with
subsidies for individuals and small employers to purchase private coverage, as well as targeted expansions of Medicaid and CHIP."

Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D., Vice President, Domestic and Economic Policy Studies, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC:

"I believe Congress can achieve a broad consensus for action on coverage. But I am very concerned about two proposals that have entered the picture: a 'competing' public plan and a federal health board. These are like nuclear landmines on the road to broad agreement. They could be lethal to the prospects for consensus and even to the passage of any significant legislation.

"Some say that within an exchange there must be a default plan that will be a 'safe harbor,' and that plan should be a public plan – perhaps one modeled on Medicare. But it is important to remember an old sporting adage – if the umpire works for one of the teams you should be suspicious of the score. The simple fact is that if the government is sponsoring a competition within an exchange, and also is the owner of one of the plans, there can be little doubt that the rules and regulations promulgated by Washington will favor the government-sponsored plan. A 'competing' public plan as a choice will inevitably become a public plan for all, and is unacceptable."

These are just a handful of paragraphs from just two of the testifying members of the panel. As you can see, though, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of a government-run system. Even in the total absence of partisanism, there is great potential for abuse of the system. I'm sure I do not need to remind anyone of the scandals we've had in Washington "on both sides of the aisle".

You may say that companies are even more prone to corruption than Washington is. You may even be right. But before you allow another massive expansion of government powers, before you allow another large and untried government program to be created (one that could potentially cost billions of taxpayer dollars that we already don't have), please read the testimonies found at the link above. Please ask yourself if we can afford a "new new deal". And please ask yourself, with the obvious alternatives available to us, if we even need it.

I'll be writing to my representative, and to both of my senators. I encourage all of you to do the same.

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