Dems Want Gov't to Control Health Decisions

Dems Want Gov't to Control Health Decisions

By Robert Tracinski - July 29, 2009

The trademark political tactic of the Obama administration is speed: ramming legislation through Congress as fast as possible—too fast for anyone to subject the bills to scrutiny, search for objectionable provisions, or develop effective counter-arguments in a public debate. They push the bills through so fast that even President Obama and his allies in Congress don't have time to read them and don't know what's in them.

That's why we should be relieved that Obama's health-care bill did not get pushed through before the August congressional recess. The bill got blocked, in part, because the people got just enough time to start reading it. And the more time we get to read it, the less we're going to like it.

On Capitol Hill, the aspect of the bill that makes legislators most uncomfortable is the trillions of dollars of new spending it will require. The president has already maxed out the national credit card on the deeply unpopular auto bailouts and stimulus package, leaving Congress with the sense that new spending is something they cannot afford, either economically or politically.

But outside of Washington, the provision of the bill that is raising the greatest concern is the fact that it is designed to push us out of our existing private health insurance plans and into a government-controlled plan. This is directly in contradiction to President Obama's repeated assurances that government-run health insurance will merely be an "option" and that we will be allowed to keep our existing private health insurance.

Even this so-called "public option" was an attempt to crowd out private health insurance by luring people into government-subsidized insurance. But it turns out that Obama's legislation contains provisions that will kill private health insurance directly.

Quite simply, the bill bans insurance companies from writing new private individual policies. (If you get your health-insurance through your employer, you eventually face the same fate, too.) The bill's defenders claim that private insurers will be able to write new policies—but they will have to do so through a government-run health-insurance "exchange." Investor's Business Daily explains what this means:

The exchange will be a highly regulated clearinghouse of providers that meet the government's standards. Only those providers that follow Washington's stringent guidelines will be allowed to join this exclusive club.

The government, through an unelected health choices commissioner, will set premiums, dictate benefits, determine deductibles, and establish coverage. Exchange participants will be required to insure anyone who asks to be covered and to accept all renewals…. [T]he weight of the mandates will mean only five or six providers will be able to survive and sell coverage in the exchange.

In other words, private insurance companies will be offered the privilege of administering health-insurance policies whose terms are written by government bureaucrats.

But the people are catching on. All of the relentless propaganda about how "our health care system is broken" is an attempt by the left to evade one big fact: most people are happy with their private health insurance and are terrified of giving up control of their health care to a "health choices commissioner"—the government bureaucrat who will be entitled to make all of our health choices for us.

Yes, there are many distortions in the market for health care and health insurance, distortions introduced by decades of government regulation and billions in government spending, but our private insurance still gives us the best care in the world—and crucially, more control over our own health-care than anywhere else in the world.

This is very clear to me because my family has been a pretty significant user of medical care in the past few years. Two years ago, our first child was born, and we now have a second child on the way. In between, my wife was in a semi-serious car accident. So we've spent our share of time in hospitals and examination rooms recently, and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the quality of care we have received.

Three experiences stand out. When my first son, Walter, was born, one of the pediatricians noticed that his heart was making a slight noise, so he sent us up for a consultation with a pediatric cardiologist. I have a good knowledge of science, and I have a few friends who are doctors and engineers, so I consider myself a decent judge of experts. It's not too difficult to tell when you're dealing with a physician who really knows what he's talking about and is able to answer your questions clearly and thoroughly. I was very impressed with this cardiologist, who performed an echocardiogram (a high-precision ultrasound imaging of the heart) and explained that what the pediatrician heard was actually a normal sound—what he called the "singing" of the "heart strings" that connect opposite walls of the ventricles. It was a thorough cardiac workup that relieved all of our anxieties—with no need to get on a waiting list or ask anyone's permission or go through some arcane cost-benefit analysis.

After Sherri's car accident, she experienced some vision problems. Since she is very near-sighted, she is at heightened risk for retinal detachment, and she was afraid that the impact of the collision—she was rear-ended by a truck going about 60 miles per hour—could have broken her retina loose. So again we searched around for the best expert we could find, a very impressive retina specialist, who did a very thorough check.

More recently, we went in for an ultrasound on the new baby. If you think an ultrasound is just about getting a grainy image of the fetus, you haven't seen one lately. In this ultrasound, our physician looked at the development of the baby's internal organs and the brain. Using Doppler ultrasound, which is able to track the direction and rate of motion, he looked at the blood flow through the baby's heart. And he performed a whole other series of measurements (the length of the femur, the circumference of the skull, etc.) which are markers for potential birth defects. It was a thorough physical check-up—way more thorough than anything I've ever had—performed long before the baby is born.

Now notice that all of these examples are, fortunately, about medical issues that did not turn out to be a problem. Which makes them precisely the kind of tests that would be very easy for bean-counting bureaucrats to deny on the grounds that they are not cost-effective. Not cost-effective, that is, for the government. But I didn't have to worry about what was cost-effective for the government. I only had to think about what was cost-effective for me. I was able to make the choice based on what my insurance would cover and—since I have a Health Savings Account, one of the few pro-free-market health-care reforms Congress has managed to pass—what I could afford to pay in deductibles and premiums.

My experience with the "health care system"—i.e., with our own doctors and nurses—has been a dream. I am not wealthy by any means (I am a self-employed writer, which should say just about everything right there), and I have no special connections or "pull." Yet I have had no difficulty making sure that my family receives top-quality care.

The key is that we are in control. This system works at allowing us to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Many other Americans grasp this, and that is why we are terrified that Barack Obama wants to smash it all to pieces.

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Vern Hodgins, a long-time subscriber from Canada, who recounted a very opposite experience with Canada's health-care system. Read this carefully, because if Obama gets his way, the happy story I recounted above is not the future.

This is:

"My wife and I relocated to a new community. For my wife, that meant finding a new doctor, which became a six-year wait. During that time, she had to do with a local outpatient clinic, which rotates its medical staff. It is rare to see the same doctor twice, which renders continuity feeble at best. As well, the rules do not allow rotation doctors to provide full physical examinations; only a family physician may do that.

"While waiting in line for a family doctor, my wife became ill. Typically, a patient gets about ten minutes with a community clinic doctor, which for my wife meant cursory examinations and referrals to physiotherapists and chiropractors.

"My wife's condition worsened and we could not do anything about it. Finally, the government granted her a family doctor. That doctor also gave her a cursory exam, diagnosed her ailment as a sports injury, and referred her to more physio and chiropractic treatment. Her condition worsened still, and still her doctor insisted it was a sports injury.

"Fed up with my dear wife whimpering her nights away in pain, I visited her doctor. The doctor's receptionist rudely rebuffed me, saying my wife had to wait in line just like everyone else because despite what I thought, she was no more or less special than anyone else.

"The next morning I described my wife's condition to a work colleague who is a doctor. Having never met my wife, and with only my description, that doctor told me to get my wife into a hospital immediately because she was certain it was a metastasized cancer.

"Sure enough, as soon as the hospital emergency staff saw my wife, they knew; it was advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which had dissolved some of her collarbone. My wife had to be told her prognosis was not good, that she had to prepare for the worst. Fortunately for me, my doctor colleague, a high profile media individual, used her influence to get my wife the best specialists in the country—which, yes, meant that my wife is somewhat more special after all. She survived. She endured the most aggressive treatment regimen there is, and though she's left with considerable damage from the radiation, she's alive.

"The incompetent family doctor, who misdiagnosed, suffered no consequence. As well, my wife must keep the same family doctor unless she wishes to wait another six years or so.

"That's socialized medicine. Worse still, one may not openly criticize our system without being told to move to America if we don't like the world's finest socialized medical system. Criticizing our system is tantamount to being a global warming 'denier.' The propaganda is that effective."

Anyone can have a family doctor who makes a wrong diagnosis—but in America, you're not stuck with him. I'm a fan of the TV show "Mystery Diagnosis," which tells the real stories of people with very rare medical conditions who spend years trying to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. One of the things these patients talk about is how you have to "be your own advocate," and most of the cases are solved when the patient himself searches for information on the Internet and finds a specialist who is an expert in his disease.

But how can you be your own advocate under socialized medicine? It is outlawed, because you are no longer in control of your own health care. You have no freedom to choose a physician, or to seek out a specialist on your own, or to decide what medical tests you will pay for.

Mr. Hodgins concludes his story by saying, "In Canada, the patient is not a client; deference goes to the doctor." I don't think that's quite accurate, because I've known a few doctors who had to work under the Canadian system, and it's no treat for them, either. In Canada's system, deference goes to the state. Care is denied in order to cut costs and save trouble for the government.

The Democrats' attempt to eliminate individual private health insurance, combined with the enormous, multi-trillion-dollar price tag of their health-care bill, tells us that this is what they want for America, too. The purpose of this bill is not to save money or provide better care or—try not to laugh—provide "health choices." Its purpose is to make us dependent on the government for the most important needs of our lives.

What we need is a political rebellion in favor of independence, which is the only real guarantee of our security and happiness. And to preserve our independence from government, we need to send the message that any legislation that even remotely threatens private health insurance is a red line that politicians dare not cross.

Robert Tracinski is editor of The Tracinski Letter and a contributor to RealClearMarkets.

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