When Barack Obama convened a White House forum on health care reform last week, there was one ground rule: check fresh ideas at the door. Of course, you’d never know that from Obama’s opening remarks rife with the usual bipartisan Mad Libbery:
In this effort, every voice has to be heard. Every idea must be considered. Every option must be on the table. There should be no sacred cows. Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything that we want, and that no proposal for reform will be perfect. If that’s the measure, we will never get anything done. But when it comes to addressing our health care challenge, we can no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the essential. And I don’t think anybody would argue that we are on a sustainable path when it comes to health care.
Despite the inclusive rhetoric, invitees were carefully selected to ensure no contraband proposals made it past security checkpoints. Among the attendees were the usual suspects:
The vast majority of the groups represented at the summit strongly support a federal health insurance plan, and some are even advocates of a single-payer system. The list of summit participants included no fewer than nine unions: SEIU, UFCW, USW, Teamsters, UAW, CWA, Change to Win, AFSCME, and AFL-CIO.
The attendance list also included Physicians for a National Health Program (”Our Mission: Single-Payer National Health Insurance“) and other liberal advocacy groups such as the Center for American Progress, Campaign for America’s Future, AARP, Planned Parenthood, Families USA, and Health Care for America Now.
Advocates of free market health care models were conspicuously absent. Michael Cannon notes that the guest list excluded representatives from some of the top health policy think tanks in the world, including:
- American Enterprise Institute (the #5 think tank in the world for health policy)
- Cato Institute (ranked #7)
- National Center for Policy Analysis (ranked #10)
- Manhattan Institute
- Pacific Research Institute
- Galen Institute
- The Heritage Foundation
What could analysts from these policy centers bring to the table? Here’s just one example of an innovative approach to health care outlined by John Cochrane in a paper published by the Cato Institute. He proposes a systemic reform that would separate health coverage into two products: medical insurance and what he calls health-status insurance. “Medical insurance covers your medical expenses in the current year, minus deductibles and copayments. Health-status insurance covers the risk that your medical premiums will rise,” he explains.
John Cochrane’s free market solution would provide portability, preserve choice, and increase affordability. But as Reason Magazine’s Ronald Bailey points out in his excellent summary of the plan, Dr. Cochrane did not receive an invitation to the White House summit.
John Cochrane and other creative thinkers have been locked out of the debate, but the Teamsters and UAW have the president’s ear as he prepares to make a $634 billion down payment on health care reform. What happened to “every voice has to be heard”?