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A Bad Idea Then, A Bad Idea Now

By Mark Davis

One of the dangers of Sen. Hillary Clinton's unveiling of a health care plan is the memories it unearths of her famously failed attempt to enact reforms she sought in the early 1990s.

Still, the rollout this week of her "American Health Choices Plan" may prove a net positive for her because of the more recent memory it displaces: the imagery of her derision of Gen. David Petraeus last week.

At several points during her campaign, she has shown herself to be substantially more poised and, yes, presidential, than Democrat rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards on the subject of war. But faced with the commander in the field who needs her help the most, she chose to call him a liar (and, yes, that's what you're calling someone when you say their testimony requires "willing suspension of disbelief").

Changing the focus to health care diverts a growing sense that Mrs. Clinton and her Democrat colleagues behaved terribly in badgering Gen. Petraeus. Even if that subject is a mine field for her, she is guided through with the adoring protection of a media culture inclined to admire her, going so far as to lament her failure to nationalize health care during her husband's first term as president.

The tone of much of the coverage seems to be: She tried to make changes, deserves credit for the attempt, it's too bad she failed, and maybe she'll succeed this time.

But what if her proposed changes, then and now, are a horrible idea?

Let us set aside every positive or negative opinion we have of Mrs. Clinton for an objective examination of whether America's world-dominating health care system is hurt or helped by a vast increase in government involvement.

I think you sense my answer. In 1993 and today, she pays lip service to American health care, calling it the best in the world. In the same breath, she still proposes meddling in ways that can only denigrate that quality.

Her zeal is based on one of the great myths of modern times, the mistaken belief that we have a health care "crisis."

To be sure, some people face monstrous health care costs without the safety net of insurance to protect them, but most of the 47 million Americans who lack health insurance have bypassed it by choice. Plenty of healthy young people and couples choose to forgo premiums to free up money for other things.

We can consider that a dangerous gamble, but it does not constitute some blight of victimization requiring a government solution.

Anyone may reasonably observe that the U.S. health care system has problems. But most of those problems rest in how health care is paid for, and none of those ills get better with layers of new federal obligations.

Michael Moore can make movies forever chronicling his fetish for government control over all things health care and fawning over stories of countries where no one is denied care.

But how many people are truly "denied care" in America? Mrs. Clinton's reference Monday to Americans dying for lack of care is largely fiction in a nation with the biggest and busiest system in world history for providing care to those who cannot afford it.

True, some people cannot afford health insurance. But the seemingly noble instinct of fixing its cost and making it mandatory is a recipe for disaster. It is the open marketplace that has given us the best doctors, hospitals and technology in world history. Make those things a government-managed resource, and they will become a commodity just like every other line item in a government budget - vulnerable to whim and bureaucratic oversight, leading to rationing, delays and reductions in quality and availability of service.

What we need is not so much health care reform as insurance reform. We are miles detached from the real costs of care in a system where the $12 Tylenol still gets routinely paid.

Look at the magnificent marketplace in Lasik vision surgery, in which people pay for what they need, usually from their own pockets. It is a wonderful world of multiple providers and price wars. Now there's a lesson from the last decade worth absorbing.

Mrs. Clinton says she comes to us now with a health care plan less obtrusive than her gambit of the 1990s. While that may well be, our answer still should be no.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is

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