Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Problems in Mass. Utopia

As many have warned, coverage does not equal access. In other words, just because politicians encourage or mandate third-party payment for routine medical care, doesn't mean that patients will be able to actually see a doctor. Just ask patients in Canada or England, where patients routinely wait for needed services. (Those duped by Michael Moore's claims to the contrary should read John Goodman's corrective.)

Now The Wall Street Journal brings us the latest problems from Massachusetts, where everybody (well, not quite everybody, it turns out) is "covered" by political force. Tamar Lewis is 24 years old. "Earlier this month, she signed up for state-subsidized insurance under a new Massachusetts law that aspires to universal coverage. The plan costs her $80 a month. But it takes a lot more than an insurance card to see a doctor in this state. On the day Ms. Lewis signed up, she said she called more than two dozen primary-care doctors approved by her insurer looking for a checkup. All of them turned her away. Her experience stands to be common among the 550,000 people whom Massachusetts hopes to rescue from the ranks of the uninsured. They will be seeking care in a state with a 'critical shortage' of primary-care physicians, according to a study by the Massachusetts Medical Society released yesterday, which found that 49% of internists aren't accepting new patients. Boston's top three teaching hospitals say that 95% of their 270 doctors in general practice have halted enrollment. For those residents who can get an appointment with their primary-care doctor, the average wait is more than seven weeks, according to the medical society, a 57% leap from last year's survey."

Yet various Colorado "reformers" continue to look to Massachusetts as a model.

What such "reformers" refuse to do is examine the actual causes of skyrocketing health costs. In brief, federal tax distortions entrenched high-cost, non-portable, employer-paid insurance. Federal politicians created Medicaid and Medicare, which now underpay doctors and push costs onto others. Then federal and state governments subjected insurance to a host of controls that further drive up prices. Political meddling resulted in insurance that a significant minority of Americans cannot afford. So, obviously, "reformers" argue, the solution is more political meddling. I'm sure there's a five-year plan to fix the newly created problems.