Recently, President Barack Obama signed a measure to throw another four million children on the mercy of government-rationed health care. At the bill-signing ceremony, he described the new law as a “down payment on my commitment to cover every single American.”
But it’s less of a “down payment” than a warning strike. For every problem we face, his solution is the same: more government. He wants to make more low-income people dependent on Medicaid, to dangle the option of private citizens enrolling in the gold-plated Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, and to create yet another government-run health plan for millions of middle-income Americans.
Unfortunately for Obama, America’s bloated government-run health plans have already proven ineffective at getting patients the medical care they need, despite four decades of out-of-control spending.
Many doctors turn away Medicaid patients because the government has set reimbursement rates too low. Fewer than 70 percent of primary care physicians and specialists are willing to accept new Medicaid patients, according to a 2003 study by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
Obama and his allies routinely praise European health care systems, describing them as superior to America’s. To bolster their case, proponents of big-government health care typically rely on rankings from the World Health Organization and statistics that show higher infant mortality rates in the United States.
But these statistics oversimplify a number of facts, such as the higher number of premature babies (of whom a number do not survive) counted as live births in the U.S., but not abroad.
TOO HEAVILY INVOLVED ALREADY
The competitive pressures that characterize American health care are already warped by too much government interference, but they nevertheless breed unparalleled advances in medical technology.
U.S. patients gain access to newer, more effective drugs and procedures more quickly, so American health care does very well on measures that really matter — like saving lives.
American breast cancer patients, for instance, have a five-year survival rate of 83.9 percent. For British women, it’s just 69.7 percent. Prostate cancer patients in the states have a survival rate of 91.9 percent, but their French and British counterparts face survival rates of 73.7 percent and 51.1 percent, respectively.
Another troubling aspect of Obama’s health reform plans is his support for federal comparative-effectiveness research (CER) to compare health-care services and treatments. Based on these research efforts, government bureaucrats could decide what, when, and where health care is delivered, much like Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does. Policy makers could promote or even mandate usage of the particular drugs and medical procedures that government CER experts decide will best serve the nation’s health-care budget — not patients.
Few Americans believe that the way to improve health care is to insert yet one more paper-shuffling bureaucrat (no matter how well-intentioned) between doctor and patient.
Armed with fewer treatment options because of government CER dictates, doctors would be less able to minister to individual patients — but would spend even more time vainly appealing for exceptions to the limits.
Currently, when private insurers question paying for expensive procedures, they are vilified by “reforming” politicians who want to impose even more centralized controls themselves!
It’s not surprising that Americans are frustrated with our health care. American families only control about 14 cents of every health-care dollar. Effective health reform consists of giving them more of the share controlled by government and corporations.
Unfortunately, if Obama has his way, we might as well say good-bye to having any control over our health-care decisions.
John R. Graham is director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a San Francisco think thank and advocacy organization that supports freedom and personal responsibility by advancing free-market policy solutions.