Congress and the Obama administration seem to be backing off a half-step on the issue of national health care, which will hopefully cool the debate that has sunk on both sides to calling the opposition Nazis. Foes of the plan even carried signs showing Obama with a Hitler mustache, which is the most disrespectful treatment of a president since … well, since the last president.
And I read a recent letter to the editor that compared conservatives opposing public health care to Hitler’s Brown Shirts for disrupting town-hall meetings. That seems an inaccurate comparison, since a basic quality of conservatives is their desire for minimal government intrusion into their pursuit of happiness, and Hitler was hardly a small-government guy. He was a big-government socialist, hence his shortened party label Nazi, or “National sozialistische.” One could even say the eastern front in World War II was a fraternal struggle between Hitler and Stalin for control of world socialism, with the major difference between them being the size of their mustaches.
Assuming we’ve entered a phase where the issue of reform can be discussed without the name-calling, let’s first observe the frequent complaint is that one in seven Americans has no health insurance, which raises the question of why the government isn’t simply focusing on them. Some of those uninsured can afford insurance, but simply choose not to carry it. Like a homeowner choosing not to purchase fire insurance on a property they own free and clear, they should be free to make that risky choice. For the remaining citizens who simply can’t afford to pay premiums, it seems a government voucher system could eliminate the problem with minimal government intrusion into other people’s lives.
As for reducing the cost of health insurance premiums, why doesn’t the current plan include tort reform? The June 2005 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology listed annual malpractice insurance premiums ranging from $17,000 in Oklahoma to over $270,000 in Dade County, Florida. Such costs can add 10 percent or more to medical provider costs and resulting insurance premiums, and also discourage physicians from practicing in high-risk specialties or high-premium states.
Then add to that the expense of doctors being forced to provide excessive treatments, exams and prescriptions as a defensive measure against lawsuits. So why isn’t Congress examining the possibility of capping malpractice awards and attorney fees? A cynic might reflect on the estimate that around 60 percent of U.S. senators have law degrees, and might be reluctant to gore their own ox or the oxen of fellow attorneys.
Another major inflationary influence on health care premiums is state governments mandating coverage of certain services. In her book “The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care,” Pacific Research Institute President Sally Pipes addresses the problem of government-mandated health plan provisions, which she claims can increase medical insurance premiums by up to 50 percent. Around 2,000 such mandates require insurance companies to cover such services as massage therapy, in vitro fertilization, contraceptives, acupuncture, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, marriage counseling, etc. Medical plan shoppers who would pass on some of those coverages to lower their premiums are denied the choice.
So there are two instances of government raising the cost of health premiums — one by an act of omission (tort reform), and the other an act commission (service mandates). And, now that it’s helped to drive medical insurance costs through the ceiling, government now wants to take charge of fixing what it’s broken? On the issue of health insurance reform, government has ignored a basic medical principle: First do no harm.
Out of pure selfishness, I should welcome national health care. At age 62, I’m paying Blue Shield of California more than $7,000 a year for a $4,000 deductible plan, and in my low tax bracket I’d probably get more complete coverage at a much lower personal cost even with the clumsiest attempt at government health care. But my savings would come about by shifting financial burdens to the shoulders of younger taxpayers, for it is they who will be forced to pay the bulk of massive funding needed to provide subsidized coverage for me and other aging baby boomers.
In our nobler moments, conscience should always trump selfishness.
Steve Bankhead is a Watsonville resident and small-business owner. The opinions of columnists are not necesssarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.