“The Corner” National Review, June 11, 2009
Speaking at a rally of the faithful in Green Bay, Wisc., President Obama proclaimed that his health reforms would bring the whole country up to the health-care standard of this high-quality, low-spending community. If it were 1959, instead of 2009, he’d have said his football policy would bring every NFL team up to the standard of the Packers under their flawless new coach, Vince Lombardi.
The Obama White House has succumbed to the fundamental fallacy of socialism: believing that the government can collect information, analyze it, and then command its citizens to act in accordance with the government’s conclusions. In this case, the information is the Dartmouth Atlas, a well-known body of research that documents variance in Medicare spending and outcomes across the country. While places like Green Bay demonstrate low spending and high quality, places like Miami or Los Angeles demonstrate the opposite.
Advocates of the practice of medicine by government dramatically oversimplify the implications of the Dartmouth research, claiming that the variance is caused by too much medical care delivered to patients who actually suffer from it. If the government just commanded all medical providers to deliver the same volume of care nationwide, we’d cut health spending by 30 percent.
Well, okay: If President Obama believes that he’s got enough charm to convince Miami’s seniors that Medicare is going to cut back their access to care by 30 percent (sorry, we’ve already done all the coronary artery bypass grafts allocated to this ZIP code for this year), then he’s got political guts — that’s for sure.
But the truth is more complex. In the journal Health Affairs, Dr. Richard Cooper analyzed data which included private health spending, as well as Medicare spending, and concluded that more spending did result in better outcomes.
Dr. Cooper’s findings indicate that it is the centrally controlled Medicare program that has trouble paying for quality, not the 1,800 private insurers that compete against it.
— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.