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No public health option is worth its price September 11, 2009

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Uncategorized, US Politics.
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The 21st Century has been a rough one for me and health care coverage. For the past three years, everything has been good. No more than the typical squabbles with insurance company customer service reps unable or unwilling to help, but all is resolved as of this moment.

Since 2000, however, I have been without health insurance a total of 2 years, exactly 24 months. I was unemployed for only 6 of those months, the rest, I didn’t have employer-provided health care (they couldn’t afford it) and, since I couldn’t afford it (taking a 20% cut in pay to get any job in the wake of 9/11), I did without. More correctly, me and my family did without.

That being the facts, you could believe I would come out swinging for a government-operated plan. You would believe wrong.

While I believe that government can and should do some things well (e.g., national defense, unemployment benefits, and some measure of social security), I do not believe this extends to “public” health care.

Case in point: my mother. Regrettably, my father wasn’t a saver so when he passed my mother didn’t have much to go on. When she could no longer care for herself at home, and neither I nor my sister had the means to buy private health care in a nursing home, she was thrown into “the public pool”. It took her less than three years to die from a combination of benign neglect and poor hygiene in a place that had a hard time caring for its paying customers much less those on the public roll. You could argue she would have died regardless of care. You may be right, but I don’t believe it.

This, and other encounters with public medicine in its present form, gives me genuine, heartfelt concern about our government’s ability to make health care better on any level.

Unfortunately, the president has decided to be “the last president” to handle this issue without any details of how he’d like to see this happen. He’s good at the rhetoric, hyperbole and pandering to his Democrat colleagues, and poor at giving answers and direction on he says is the primary issue of his presidency.

My belief is there are other paths to fixing (or beginning to fix) what is truly wrong with our health care system. The president has addressed a couple of minor points but nothing substantial.

So, what does a conservative plan look like? Here’s one from US Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), stated on June 9, 2009:

“First, it would expand health insurance coverage so that every American has access to affordable, high-quality health insurance. Most Republicans and Democrats can agree on basic reforms that will help lower the costs of health insurance and allow patients with pre-existing conditions to be able to buy insurance. There is much data and testimony that tells us that greater affordability and increased access are not mutually exclusive. More than that, the more we learn about the costs driving up our system, the more we recognize that if done correctly, greater access can drive down costs.

Second, the bill would use private plans to deliver the benefit. I believe that most Republicans and Democrats can agree that a patient-focused health care system will provide the highest quality and lowest cost when patients are able to choose among competing private plans. When patients can vote with their feet, insurance companies will be forced to deliver better quality care.

We have heard much debate about a public plan option, and we have heard Democrats recently begin to back away from a government-run plan. I believe that many of my colleagues are beginning to see that increasing the size and scope of government’s role in health care and further squeezing a private marketplace will drive up costs and drive down quality every single time. As the public, the editorial boards, and reasonable people on both sides of the aisle continue to delve deeper into the practicality of a public option, I believe it will continue to recede further into the background.

Third, many Democrats and Republicans can agree to basic reforms that would foster an atmosphere of competition by demanding that insurers compete on price and value rather than providing the ability to pick lower-cost, lower-risk patients.

Fourth, a bipartisan bill would protect consumers by providing them with better information about quality, price, and the nature of coverage provided for in competing plans. One of the most common concerns I hear from people as I travel around my state of Wyoming is that they don’t know what they are getting for their money until after they’ve already purchased it. There is no other private marketplace that works like that, and our health care system shouldn’t either. Buying a car or a house sight and price unseen does not make any sense, so why should you be expected to pay for your health care that way?

Fifth, many Democrats and Republicans support an appropriate level of government oversight of the marketplace to protect individuals against abuses that sometimes occur in today’s market. Such a change would also have a great, positive impact on driving down costs.

Sixth, a bipartisan health reform bill would provide subsidies to low-income Americans to give them the extra help they need to purchase health insurance. Many working Americans need help to purchase health insurance, and we should give them more choices beyond simply expanding unsustainable entitlement programs like Medicaid. Otherwise, we will continue to face the cost burdens of the uninsured showing up for treatment in the emergency room when it is most risky to their health, most difficult to treat, and most costly to the system.

Finally, such a bill must be fully paid for so that we do not increase our national deficit. I have spoken at length in the Senate about America’s fiscal situation. It is my belief that our nation’s credit card has reached its limit. The federal government debt is now more than $11 trillion, and our nation’s deficit stands at $1.84 trillion. And the Obama Administration claims to be ushering in an era of responsibility.

We conservatives believe that the Obama budget has ushered in an era of taxing too much, borrowing too much, and spending too much. The President’s budget sets aside $630 billion over ten years, which, according to the Administration, is “not sufficient to fully fund” health care but is the “first crucial step.” For reform to go anywhere, it is imperative that this step be paid for in full.

So far, the Administration has floated the idea of reducing the amount of tax deduction allowable for charitable giving in the top marginal tax rate. This policy has been roundly criticized by Members on both sides of the aisle and by charities across the country as misguided, ill-timed, and simply a nonstarter. And others have talked about an idea that must clearly be taken off the table in order to reach a bipartisan agreement on health reform. That is, we will not pay for health reform by enacting an onerous cap-and-tax on energy costs for the American people.”

Now, let’s hear the presidential response. The silence will be deafening, I’m sure.

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