Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who Broke Health Care?

Richard Ralston, executive director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine asks this question in his latest OpEd:
Who Broke Health Care?
by Richard E. Ralston

Many politicians now tell us that health care in America is "broken."

The best initial response to that is to ask yourself whether you think that your own health care is broken. And if it is, do you want to turn your decisions about your own health over to politicians who claim they can fix health insurance? Or, if you are generally satisfied with your health care, do you want politicians to take your current care away and replace it with a uniform government system? That is what they want to do, whether you think your own health care is broken or not.

More generally, we all need to ask why politicians assert that American health care is broken, and what agenda does it serve. We should ask, if health care is broken, who broke it and how did they break it?

Health care was much more affordable in the 1960s. The government paid for less than 10 percent of all health care. Then the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid and wrote 130,000 pages of Medicare regulations. Now the government pays for 50 percent of all health care.

Has that fixed health care, or broken it?

In the same period, state regulation of medical insurance rapidly expanded, adding many coverage mandates that each policy must comply with. In some states you have to buy coverage for electric shock therapy, or in vitro fertilization, or acupuncture, or chiropractic, or hairpieces, or a social worker, or a marriage counselor, or a long list of other things, whether you want such coverage or not. And new mandates are added all the time, driving up insurance costs every year. Moreover, you are not allowed to buy better priced insurance from a competing provider in another state.

Has that fixed health care, or broken it?

The government could easily make reforms that would reduce the cost of insurance without any additional spending: Basic policies without mandates. Tax deductible premiums. Competition between insurance companies across state lines.

Why is it, then, that the more government controls health care in order to fix it, the more expensive health care invariably becomes?

Politicians who broke health care and now complain that it is broken do not want people to be able to afford reasonable insurance. They see that as an obstacle in their path to eliminate all private insurance. They are not in favor of fixing anything, but of making us all dependent on the favor of politicians for our health and well being.

State legislators and members of Congress have destroyed objective law and created a litigation system that is designed not to justly compensate those who have been harmed by medical mistakes, but to create a gigantic and perpetual financial bonanza for a small number of trial lawyers. Liability insurance premiums have exploded and increased the cost of all health care for everyone -- as has the "defensive" medicine of unnecessary tests and procedures that physicians have had to adopt to protect themselves from such legal extortion.

Has that fixed health care, or broken it?

When confronted with claims that health care is broken from the politicians who broke it, the last thing we should do is give them additional powers to break it further. Instead, we need to direct them to reverse the damage they have done, to stop forbidding the options that would make insurance affordable and to start leaving our health care alone.

Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine