More Scrutiny for CIRM and Big-Government Health Care

State Senator Sheila Kuehl, California’s leading partisan of government monopoly health care, has assumed the role of consumer watchdog. Her new measure, SB 1565, “Stem Cell Research – Public Accountability and Access,” targets problems with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Some may wonder if the senator should be pointing fingers, but CIRM does seem to lack accountability.

CIRM was implemented by California voters in November, 2004, through Proposition 71, which aimed to make use of funds for stem cell research that has the greatest potential for treatments and cures, and is unlikely to receive federal funding. Since 2004, CIRM has proved quite adept at throwing grant money around. In fact, it provides the most funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the world.

It’s true that CIRM’s financial support, $3 billion in bond sales ($6 billion with interest) is not directly tied to California’s crumbling state budget. In light of the budget, however, and CIRM’s record of zero cures, it’s hardly the best time to boost executive salaries. But that is precisely what CIRM did, paying president Alan Trounson a whopping $490,000, up from $412,000.

CIRM executives will make more than $300,000, up from $270,000, but the questionable behavior goes beyond salaries. In recent months, several CIRM board members secretly lobbied for self-serving grants, which were ultimately trashed. In case CIRM board members have forgotten, they administer a state agency, voted into existence and paid for by California taxpayers.

Recently in a prepared statement, Sen. Kuehl said SB 1565 would “help ensure the public’s trust” in CIRM. Perhaps she should test her own bill, SB 840, against this standard. What is there about government-run medicine that should inspire citizens’ trust?

Canada’s independent Fraser Institute has studied the costs and effects of the single-payer health care system in that country, and has long warned Governor Schwarzenegger against the prospect of Sen. Kuehl’s SB 840. Fraser research points to the fact that health care seems to cost less in Canada because public health insurance there does not cover the advanced medical treatments that are common in the United States.

Fraser’s 2007 report, Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada, 17th Edition, found that the waiting time between referral from a general practitioner and treatment across 12 specialties and 10 provinces was more than 18 weeks last year. PRI has shown that such a government health system in California would eliminate private health care, push doctors out of business, and create long waiting lists for services. This could also cost an estimated $1 billion annually. If Sen. Kuehl is really concerned with public accountability and access, she would know that government bureaucracies are least accountable to individual citizens who need increased affordability and more choice in health care.

The CIRM is indeed a money pit that needs more scrutiny. But if a small state institute can resist oversight, how much more so will big-government health care, which also promises more than it can deliver? As the record shows, government monopoly health care is practically impossible to reform, much less eliminate, whatever its level of non-performance. That is something for legislators, and the governor, to keep in mind as they debate California’s health-care future.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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