Free Markets, Free People

Health Care

The Shape Of Things To Come

A short little blurb in the WSJ:

The medical costs of treating obesity-related diseases may have soared as high as $147 billion in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, as its new director set a fresh tone in favor of more aggressively attacking obesity.

Fresh my rear end. The only thing “fresh” about it is another bureaucrat discovering a “fresh” new area in which to intrude.  A little reading between the lines is required.

Note the name of the agency. Is it a stretch, given what we’ve seen lately, to imagine this agency recommending that obesity be classified as a “disease”?

Why else would the director of the CDC even address the issue?

Of course once it has been declared a disease, all sorts of “prevention” can be legislated – for your own good, of course. And to “cut medical costs”.

The cost of treating obesity doubled over a decade, signaling the rising prevalence of excess weight and the toll it is taking on the health-care system. The medical costs of obesity were estimated to be $74 billion in 1998, according to a study by federal government researchers and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hmmm can taxes on food – sugary drinks, high calorie foods, etc – be far behind? Right now that may be a little more difficult and problematic because the government doesn’t have control of health care in this country. But, with that in the offiing, I think the new director of the CDC is just anticipating this “fresh” direction once said legislation is expelled from the bowels of Congress.

Just keeping you up to date.

~McQ

Maxine Waters – Political Rocket Scientist

I ran across this today and got a good chuckle:

Liberal frustration started to boil over in the House on Tuesday as negotiations over healthcare reform with centrist Blue Dog Democrats dragged into a second week.

The delay prompted Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to lash out at the Blue Dogs as hypocritical and even hint that more liberal Democrats might challenge them in primaries.

Apparently Ms. Waters doesn’t quite understand why they’re called “Blue Dogs”:

Asked if she would recruit more liberal candidates to run against Blue Dogs, Waters said, “That’s normally not done.”

But she added: “There may be people out there listening and observing all of this who may get motivated based on what they’re seeing and throw their hat into the ring.”

Yeah, well, unless they too are “Blue Dogs” its unlikely they’ll be able to take a conservative district. And the present BDs know that if they’re a party to a liberal government program being stood up on their watch and with their support they’re not long for DC either.

But I’m sure Republicans would love to see a more liberal type take on a BD and help spend their war chest in the primary effort. It would only make the mid-terms a little brighter for the GOP in those districts.

~McQ

Health Care Blast From The Past – Hayek Has His Say

Here’s a post I did in January of 2007. It is very appropriate now that the health care reform business is well afoot.

So here’s ” Friedrich Hayek on Universal Health Care“, January 2, 2007:

As the 110th Congress prepares to convene and the run for the ’08 presidential nominations begins in earnest, we’re seeing far more appeals from the left, both from politicians, bloggers and opinion makers to address the supposed “health care problem”.

The appeals range from governmentally run universal health care to single-payer (again government) health insurance. The reasons given are also varied from the emotional “for the children” rhetoric favored by some to the technical “it would be more efficient and less costly” sobriquet.

Reading through Friedrich Hayek’s monumental “The Constitution of Liberty” again over the holidays, I revisited his discussion of the topic. And, willing to risk boring you out of you skull I thought I’d share it with you. Fair warning: Long post follows.

One of the most important thoughts he has on the subject gets to the crux of designing a system which would supposedly provide equal care to all. Health care cannot really be quantified and thereby presents peculiar problems which must be understood:

“They result from the fact that the problem of “need” cannot be treated as though it were the same for all who satisfy certain objective criteria, such as age: each case of need raises problems of urgency and importance which have to be balanced against the cost of meeting it, problems which must be decided either by the individual or for him by somebody else.”

And therein lies the great dilemma and the greatest threat to liberty. Because in a state run scheme it is the latter which will, indeed must, prevail.

He approaches the topic of health insurance and “free health care” by saying:

“But there are strong arguments against a single scheme of state insurance; and there seems to be an overwhelming case against free health service for all. From what we have seen of such schemes, it is probable that their inexpediency will become evident in the countries that have adopted them, although political circumstances make it unlikely that they can ever be abandoned, not that they have been adopted. One of the strongest arguments against them is, indeed, that their introduction is the kind of politically irrevocable measure that will have to be continued, whether it proves a mistake or not.”

That line is one of the most important points about this entire debate and one of the major reasons that many, especially among libertarians and fiscal and small government conservatives, resist the implementation of such a plan. Witness Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Once it is in place there is no turning back even if it is an outrageous mistake.

Fine, you say, but other than resisting it, to this point, because it may turn into an expensive and inefficient debacle, what can you offer to at least lend credence to an argument against such a system?

Fair question. And for that, I offer Hayek’s argument, an argument that is well reasoned, not emotional, and provides some unique insights.

He begins his critique by pointing out that the case for free health service is based on two fundamental misconceptions:

“They are, first, the belief that medical needs are usually of an objectively ascertainable character and as such that they can and ought to be fully met in every case without regard to economic considerations, and, second, that this is economically possible because an improved medical service normally results in a restoration of economic effectiveness or earning power and so pays for itself.”

But, as he argues, both miss the mark because they mistake the nature of the problem involved in decisions concerning “the preservation of health and life”:

“There is no objective standard for judging how much care and effort are required in a particular case; also, as medicine advances, it becomes more and more clear that there is no limit to the amount that might profitably be spent in order to do all that is objectively possible.”

Now make sure you’re clear on his point here. He’s not claiming it is profitable (or rational) to spend what is necessary to do all that is objectively possible. He’s arguing that if you agree that even marginal improvement, no matter how small, is “good” (“no objective standard”) then there is no limit as to how much you can spend for marginal improvement. Without an objective standard for making judgments as to how much care and effort are enough care and effort, the want is infinite.

He continues:

“Moreover, it is also not true that, in our individual valuation, all that might yet be done to secure health and life has absolute priority over other needs. As in all other decisions in which we have to deal not with certainties but with probabilities and chances. We constantly take risks and decide on the basis of economic considerations whether a particular precaution is worthwhile, i.e., by balancing the risk against other needs. Even the richest man will normally not do all that medical knowledge makes possible to preserve his health, perhaps because other concerns compete for his time and energy. Somebody must always decide whether an additional effort and additional outlay of resources are called for. The real issue is whether the individual concerned is to have a say and be able, by an additional sacrifice, to get more attention or whether this decision is to be made for him by somebody else. Though we all dislike the fact that we have to balance immaterial values like health and life against material advantages and wish that the choice were unnecessary, we all do have to make the choice because of facts we cannot alter.”

The fundamental issue he confronts here is the right of individual choice and the attack on that right which programs such as “free health care” pose. In essence individual choice is, at some point, overruled by collective choice. As Hayek implies in his discussion of “objective standards” and the real lack of them in judgments of how much care and effort are required in a particular case, those sorts of standards must be part and parcel to any “free health service”. Infinite need/want meets finite fiscal and physical resources in such a system, and consequently some method of defining the limits of “health care” within those fiscal and physical constraints must, of necessity, be made. Individual choice then is reduced to those standards and the freedom to pursue “additional sacrifice” in terms of spending more on your health is removed from your array of choices.

Even when such “objective determinably standards” are outlined, they prove not to be well considered or, as Hayek says, have any “relation to reality:”

“The conception that there is a an objectively determinable standard of medical services which can and ought to be provided for all, a conception which underlies the Beveridge scheme and the whole British National Health Service, has no relation to reality. In a field that is undergoing as rapid change as medicine is today, it can, at most, be the bad average standard of service that can be provided equally for all. But since in every progressive field what is objectively possible to provide for all depends on what has already been provided for some, the effect of making it too expensive foremost to get better than average service, must, before long, be that this average will be lower than it otherwise would be.”

Why the US continues to be the gold-standard for the most progressive and best medical care available instead of the British National Health Service is to be found in that paragraph. When their health is involved, people will rarely, if ever, chose the “bad average standard of service” over one which provides them the opportunity to access the best and most progressive. Health care, as provided by any universal scheme can, at best, only offer that “bad average standard of service”.

Hayek then addresses another part of the base misconceptions he identifies above:

“The problems raised by a free health service are made even more difficult by the fact that the progress of medicine tends to increase its efforts not mainly toward restoring working capacity but toward the alleviation of suffering and the prolongation of life; these, of course, cannot be justified on economic but only on humanitarian grounds. Yet, while the task of combating the serious diseases which befall and disable some in manhood is a relatively limited one, the task of slowing down the chronic process which must bring about the ultimate decay of us all is unlimited. The latter presents a problem which can, under no conceivable condition, be solved by an unlimited provision of medical facilities and which therefore must continue to present a painful choice between competing aims. Under a system of state medicine this choice will have to be imposed by authority upon individuals. It may seem harsh, but it is probably in the interest of all that under a free system those with full earning capacity should often be rapidly cured of temporary and not dangerous disablement at the expense of some neglect of the aged and mortally ill. Where systems of state medicine operate, we generally find that those who could be promptly restored to full activity have to wait for long periods because all the hospital facilities are taken up by the people who will never again contribute to the needs of the rest.”

Or who are presently too young to contribute.

What Hayek says, without saying it, is even in a system of “free health service”, there must and will be a system of rationing. Of course one of the main objections to our present system is we ration health care by price. But it doesn’t matter as the nature of health care, unlimited need meets limited means, requires it in every scenario imaginable short of a magic solution of some sort.

If we deal just in the economics of such a system, that which makes the most sense is to give priority of treatment to those who can recover quickly and contribute. That wouldn’t be the retired and children. Or stay at home moms. And those, usually, are the ones first identified as needing this sort of a system. But they are the very reason such systems fail to deliver on the promises made.

Hayek hints that such a system has an outside chance of working if it focuses on “restoring working capacity” and not much else. If and when it becomes focused on the “alleviation of suffering and the prolongation of life”, economic justification is impossible because the need/want for that is unlimited.

Such a system that gives priority to restoring those able to work productively would give further priority to treatment of the immediate problem and not necessarily the treatment of the chronic problem, if there is one – not if it wished to remain economically viable.

Thus far then, with such a system we’re reduced to a “bad average standard of service” which will, in some way, be rationed and in which individual choice will be abridged.

Last point, and privacy advocates should zero in on this:

“There are so many serious problems raised by the nationalization of medicine that we cannot mention even all of the more important ones. But there is one the gravity of which the public has scarcely yet perceived and which is likely to be of the greatest importance. This is the inevitable transformation of doctors, who have been members of a free profession primarily responsible to their patients, into paid servants of the state, officials who are necessarily subject instruction by authority and who must be released from the duty of secrecy so far as authority is concerned. The most dangerous aspect of the new development may well prove to be that, at a time when the increase in medical knowledge tends to confer more and more power over the minds of men to those who possess it, they should be made dependent on a unified organization under a single direction and be guided by the same reasons of state that generally govern policy. A system that gives the indispensable helper of the individual, who is at the same time an agent of the state, an insight into the other’s most intimate concerns and creates conditions in which he must reveal this knowledge to a superior and use it for the purposes determined by authority opens frightening prospects. The manner in which state medicine has been used in Russia as an instrument of industrial discipline gives us a foretaste of the uses to which such a system can be put.”

Now scoff if you wish, but that is the inherent risk any such system has because of its very nature. Such access to information is ripe for abuse, and, as Hayek notes, the fundamental change in the relationship of the doctor to the patient in this scheme makes such a risk of abuse more likely instead of less. The authority in this process is no longer the patient for whom the doctor used to work, but the entity which instructs the doctor on what he can or can’t do and pays him for the service. And the authority which makes such decisions must and will have access to all the information necessary to make them. What was once privileged information shared between doctor and patient would become shared information within the bureaucracy with possible potential abusive uses of which Hayek reminds us. Some may see those abuses as far fetched. I see their potential as a logical result of the system. One of the arguments we constantly make about corruption in the Congress is that the problem is systemic. It comes from the very nature of the institution its structure. This system is of similar construct and cannot help, at some time, becoming corrupt. Such corruption would most likely see the information within its databases used for purposes other than the treatment of patients.

An example? How hard do you suppose it would be to sort all the new mothers out of the population and offer them a choice of limited future service or complying with a government mandate that they see a doctor regularly? Some might argue that’s actually good. Ok, how about obese people? Alcoholics? Drug users?

Oh, wait, couldn’t the list of drug users be used for other purposes?

Yes. And so could a lot of other lists.

While all the lure of “free” health care sounds wonderful, especially to those who may not have access to health care at the moment, it is an emotional appeal which ignores the huge down-side such a program imposes on a society. No one argues that the system we have is perfect, and it certainly isn’t the least expensive, but, it appears it is the most responsive and provides access for most to the best and most innovative medicine available. There are some obvious things which could be done to improve it (remove health insurance from the realm of the employer, for one). But given the power of Hayek’s arguments, it should be a little more clear that putting our health care into the hands of the government is not one of them.

~McQ

The Health Care “I Told You So” Post

When your political opposition is self-destructing (even while in the majority and in control of the legislative and executive branches), most political observers would advise stepping back and allowing them to do so.

But not the Republicans. They’re going to be the “significant other” that gives this president a win on his signature issue and help him maintain both his momentum and the viability of the rest of his agenda.

The “I told you so” part of this is, as I (and many others) have said, Democrats will eventually pass something they can call “health care reform” and save the viability of Obama’s presidency. What you didn’t figure is the Republicans would be both complicit and key to that:

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) confirmed that the three Republicans and three Democrats negotiating the Senate Finance bill are moving away from a broad-based mandate that would force employers to offer insurance. The senators instead are leaning toward a “free rider” provision that requires employers to pay for employees who receive coverage through Medicaid or who receive new government subsidies to purchase insurance through an exchange.

Snowe stressed the committee hasn’t reached a final agreement on any of the key provisions but said, “There is not a broad-based employer mandate. … There are approximately 170 million Americans that receive coverage through employers. That is a significant percentage of the population. We don’t want to undermine that or create a perverse incentive where employers drop the coverage because their employees could potentially get subsidies through the exchange.”

On the nonprofit insurance cooperative, Snowe also said no final decisions have been reached, but “it is safe to say it is probably one that will remain in the final document.”

This is what everyone who talks about it means when they say that Republicans “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk”. Here is a group, and I’d bet there are more that will sign on, who are involved in one of the biggest expansions of government undertaken since the “New Deal”. And when November of next year rolls around, this is the party that is going to want you to believe they are all for less government, less spending and less government intrusion.

And they’ll have this to point to as proof. [/sarc]

The reason the GOP is a shrinking party isn’t because it is the party of the Southern white male. It’s because no believes their nonsense any longer.  Sometimes being the party of “no” is the right thing to do.

[Welcome RCP readers]

~McQ

Health Care Reform – Peeling The Onion

There are a number of things going on in the health care reform debate that are the reason Democrats are at odds with each other. One, obviously is cost. What should be apparent, even to rocket scientists like Nancy Pelosi, is that the American people are not buying into the premise that “government can expand coverage, improve care and do it for less”. It’s not happening.

And, of course, those on the blue side that are leading the “no way, no how” charge are the so called Blue Dogs. Bolstering the Blue Dog position is the CBO, or Congressional Budget Office – a non-partisan organization which “scores” proposed bills for cost and savings. In the last few weeks it has consistently found Democratic Congressional legislative proposals wanting – pointing out none delivered the promised savings over the long haul.

Predictably, the CBO has come under fire from the left, and yesterday the White House joined the fray. Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, Peter Orszag said – carefully – that the CBO’s recent analysis might be feeding a perception that its tendency is toward “exaggerating costs and underestimating savings.”

Given how the costs of most government programs skyrocket after implementation, I’m having difficulty buying into this supposed perception. And it may say more about Orszag, former CBO director, than it does about the CBO now.

However, what Orszag is talking about specifically is a proposal that is another part of the infighting going on among Democrats.

“The point of the proposal … was never to generate savings over the next decade,” Orszag said in a letter posted on Saturday.

“Instead the goal is to provide a mechanism for improving quality of care for beneficiaries and reducing costs over the long term.”

In fact, the proposal is about shifting power from Congress to the Executive Branch:

The new council, if approved, would replace the current Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which is made up of doctors and health care experts. Once a year, it gives recommendations about coverage and reimbursement rates for Medicare but has no authority to enforce its ideas. Its report in March recommended that payments for primary care physicians be increased and home health services rates be decreased.

The proposed council would be comprised of doctors and health care experts making their recommendations based on extensive data and analysis of best health care practices, according to administration officials.

It would be an independent executive branch agency — which would give its recommendations more weight. The president would have to approve or disapprove the its recommendations as a package. If it is approved, the package would be enacted if Congress did not vote against it within 30 days.

This isn’t necessarily about “best health care practices” – this is about centralizing the decision making and making it harder and harder for Congress as a whole and individual Congressmen specifically, from excepting their district or certain constituent health care providers from some of the provisions. The White House wants to take that little perk away from them. And that’s another one of many stuggles going on within this fight to pass something.

A Democratic president trying to take power away from a Democratic congress is probably not the best way to try to pass something that the President can call “health care reform”. That’s not to say I support this council in either form – its more to point out how clumsily this administration is proceeding in all of this. If you want legislation passed so your signature issue doesn’t fail, it may be best not to try to take power away from a friendly Congress and take it yourself. Executive power grabs don’t just happen in the national security area as the Democrats constantly criticized Bush for attempting. They can occur in many other areas. We’ll see if the Dems will be as critical of this power grab as they were of the ones alleged of the previous administration.

~McQ

IBD Stands By Story About Private Health Insurance

Last week Investors Business Daily ran an editorial claiming that the new 1018 page House health care reform bill had a provision (on page 16) that outlawed private insurance.

Well they caught some flak for that, with detractors claiming that they didn’t read far enough and had they done so they’d have found that wasn’t the case. IBD did the right thing and did indeed go back an revisit their claim.

Conclusion – they stand by their story. Here’s why:

Our impression was further confirmed Monday when Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking member on Ways and Means, told us that “any existing plan will not be able to enroll members.” There will be “a prohibition,” the Michigan Republican said, “on enrolling individuals in private health plans” after the bill becomes law in 2013.

It was also confirmed by Ways and Means staff director Cybele Bjorklund, who, in response to questions from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin during a committee markup session, admitted last week that insurance providers “cannot create new policies outside of that window outside of the exchange.”

Many of those who have said we are wrong pointed to this health care exchange mentioned by Bjorklund as evidence.

But the exchange will not be a private market. It will be a program in which Americans can buy individual plans from private companies in competition with the “public option” provision of the bill that will provide taxpayer-subsidized coverage.

So in essence you’ll be limited to an insurer on the exchange, with all the regulation and mandates applied which is turn competing with a “public option” plan. You can’t just call up a private insurer and gin up your own brand and level of coverage.

Instead, you’re limited to the slim pickin’s the “exchage” will offer:

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. Ryan believes the weight of the mandates will mean only five or six providers will be able to survive and sell coverage in the exchange.

Yes friends, as we’ve seen so often from this administration already, this is government picking winners and losers. From 1300 competing insurance providers today to “five or six”. That’s the government’s idea of “competition?”

And again, to reinforce the point, that is the only place you’ll be able to get your insurance should, for instance, you change a job. Or, as anticipated, your employer opts to quit providing it and essentially points you toward the exchange.

Even Henry Waxman admits this even while trying to convince reporters that IBD had it wrong in their first editorial:

In trying to prove the exchange will be a private market, the bill’s own supporters actually prove our point. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., complains in a letter that last week’s editorial is “factually incorrect and highly misleading” yet admits three paragraphs later that outside the exchange, providers “can’t continue to market” existing “policies to new customers.”

Restraint of trade by regulation. Insurers are limited to the “exchange” and if not on the exchange, they’re essentially not in the health insurance business other than servicing existing policies. Obviously as their pool shrinks, their prices will go up, causing their pool to shrink further. That’s competition? That’s a “market”?

As John Stossel said the other day:

Like the politicians, most people are oblivious to F.A. Hayek’s insight that the critical information needed to run an economy — or even 15 percent of one — doesn’t exist in any one place where it is accessible to central planners. Instead, it is scattered piecemeal among millions of people. All those people put together are far wiser and better informed than Congress could ever be. Only markets — private property, free exchange and the price system — can put this knowledge at the disposal of entrepreneurs and consumers, ensuring the system will serve the people and not just the political class.

Yet here again we have the central planners deciding what will be a “market” and of what it will consist. I hate to break it to them, but that’s not at all a market. It’s an artifice created by legislators to give the veneer of competition to a “market” that is decidedly not one.

Instead:

Anything that is primarily steered by the hand of the government rather than the price signals that free markets so efficiently process on a daily basis would be an agency of the state.

The artificially legislated bars to entry will make this a captive process of the state.

And lastly:

Perhaps most damning to the argument of those who say we are wrong about the House bill outlawing new individual private coverage is the creation of the exchange itself.

If getting coverage from the exchange is the same as buying insurance in the private market, then why do we need it? The authors of the bill could have kept the private option by doing nothing.

In fact, if they really wanted a “market” and “competition” they should remove mandates and allow consumers to buy health insurance products across state lines. Allow the consumer to decide the type of coverage he wants and the amount he’s willing to pay. Review that with Stossel’s point about markets and you’ll begin to understand the power such a market would have in lowering insurance costs without the government having to do much of anything.

What Adam Smith said about the economic planner applies here, too: The politician who tries to design the medical marketplace would “assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”

They don’t want competition, folks – they want control. And history tells us where that leads.

~McQ

Hell Freezes Over – NYT Fact Checks Obama

I‘ll leave it to you to read the health care fact check. But this was of particular interest to me:

The president continued to take credit for deficit reduction by making a claim that has been challenged by many experts.

“If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made,” the deficit over the next 10 years would be $2.2 trillion greater, the president said.

In fact, $1.5 trillion of those “savings” are mainly based on an assumption that the United States would have had as many troops in Iraq in 10 years as it did when Mr. Obama took office. But before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with Baghdad mandating the withdrawal of all American forces within three years.

So Mr. Obama is claiming credit for not spending money that, under the policy he inherited from Mr. Bush, would never have been spent in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, even Bush didn’t plan on keeping as many troops as we had then for 10 years. The SOFA agreement and the general withdrawal timetable had been announced before Obama ever took office.

A perfect example of why every “fact” Obama utters needs to be examined carefully (that’s true for every politician, but this one especially), especially now when he’s promising the moon and stars in health care for less cost. Again, read the fact check for some of the points addressing that.

~McQ

The Health Care Presser

I loved a tweet that Jon Henke sent out last night during the Obama health care press conference.  It had me laughing – “Shorter Obama: you’re either with us or against us”.

In reality the press conference was the retelling of the same old nonsense. We’re going to expand the insurance system, require everyone be taken, no pre-existing conditions, no dropping you or denial of service. We’ll pay for it by finding some savings in waste, fraud and abuse, do health care delivery better than anyone else has ever done it, tax the rich and do it all – every bit of it – cheaper than it’s being done now, because we’re the government and we’re the experts in efficiency.

Tell me that wasn’t the crux of the presser?  Anyone left wondering why the majority of Americans are skeptical?

And of course we had the usual canards out there. The claim that preventive medicine is cheaper than medicine as it is being practiced now. Take a moment to read this post by a doctor who lays out the con in minute detail. Here’s another view. Here’s a fact no one seems willing to deal with – the vast majority of all health care costs come in the last 6 months of life.  No one has beaten death yet.  Ergo that fact isn’t going to change unless the entity with the money refuses to pay up.  So while preventive care may extend life, the cost of preventive care is more expensive and the end result remains the same.

As for paying for it,  the whole appeal, of course, was to give the allusion to the middle class that he and the Dems were all for soaking the rich to cover the cost, even talking about how taxing millionaires met his “principle” on that.

But as Mickey Kaus points out, you have to listen carefully:

I don’t want that final one-third of the cost of health care to be completely shouldered on the backs of middle-class families who are already struggling in a difficult economy. And so if I see a proposal that is primarily funded through taxing middle-class families, I’m going to be opposed to that …

Kaus points out that those two words, in “Wash-speak” mean he’s open to a middle-class tax to pay for the “new” and “improved” health care (49% isn’t “primarily”, right?).

And then there’s the dawning understanding around much of the country that this isn’t about reforming health insurance at all (something that might be appealing to most).  It is about a fundamental change in how health care is delivered. As the Republicans have begun saying, it is “experimenting” with your health care.

Can I guarantee that there are going to be no changes in the health-care delivery system? No. The whole point of this is to try to encourage changes that work for the American people and make them healthier. And the government already is making some of these decisions. More importantly, insurance companies right now are making those decisions. And part of what we want to do is to make sure that those decisions are being made by doctors and medical experts based on evidence, based on what works. Because that’s not how it’s working right now. That’s not–that’s not how it’s working right now.

Yes the government is already making some of those decisions. And the unfunded liabilities of the government system threaten to bankrupt us.

But the point remains that peppered all through the statement and answers was the phrase “health care delivery”.  That is one of the things driving down the approval ratings on the legislation.  Its one thing to say, “hey we’re going to eliminate pre-existing conditions, portability issues and denial of service while making sure everyone has insurance”.   It is an entirely different thing to say “we’re going to tinker with and change the way your health care is delivered”.

Now suddenly the government is in territory few want it in.  And that’s the overreach that Obama and the Democrats have committed that is driving the health care legislation approval numbers down.  Which gets us into the politics of this.

Obama said “this isn’t about me”.  But in fact it is all about him and maintaining his credibility.  But his problem, as usual, is he’s outsourced his signature agenda item to Congress.  Peter Wehner discusses the result:

On virtually every important issue — from the stimulus package, to cap-and-trade, to health care, to taxes, and more — Obama is ceding the agenda to the barons on Capitol Hill. And they will lead him over a cliff.

Why this is taking place is hard to know. It may be that Obama and Company are over-learning the lessons of the Clinton and Carter years, when relations with Democrats on the Hill were strained. It may be that Obama doesn’t like to immerse himself in the nitty-gritty of policy and is more comfortable deferring to those who do. It may be that the liberals on the Hill actually reflect what Obama himself — whose record as a legislator was, after all, markedly liberal — favors. It may be that Obama’s lack of experience is now showing through. Or it might be a combination of all four.

Regardless of the cause, the result will be damaging, and maybe even debilitating, to the Obama administration. All the campaign’s promises — about practicing a new brand of politics, finding middle ground, embodying hope and change — seem so old, so dated, and so cynical. Obama is turning out to be Salesman-in-Chief. But what he’s trying to peddle — an unusually liberal agenda and legislation that ranges from ineffective to downright harmful and reflects the desires of leading Congressional Democrats rather than the needs of the country — ain’t selling.

No, it’s not, thus the reason for the presser. As I pointed out yesterday, it is obvious at points he has no idea what is or isn’t in the bill. But what he does have a firm grasp on are his talking points, even if, as the days and weeks go by, they’re shot away or, at best, left hanging tattered and limp.

Speaking of politics, I love the attempt to take on the Republicans as the bad guys (one of the main Democratic talking points for days has been that the Republicans have brought no alternative to the table) and then this:

So, for example, in the HELP committee in the Senate, 160 Republican amendments were adopted into that bill, because they’ve got good ideas to contribute.

I’m not noting this with particular approval, I’m simply noting how this gives lie to the talking point.

To conclude, for anyone who has looked into the issue and followed the debate, such that is has been, Obama’s performance was anything but impressive. It was a mix of tired talking points and a con job – careful rhetoric that implied one thing while really saying something else (the middle-class tax increase being a perfect example).

But that doesn’t mean that some form of health care legislation won’t pass. I think, unfortunately, it will. And that is all about him and politics and he knows it. So do the Democrats. Clinton, Reagan, and GW Bush all passed their signature legislation before the first August recess in their first term. That isn’t going to happen in Barack Obama’s case. But he and the Democrats know that something they can call health care reform must pass or, as Obama is reported to have said, it will destroy his presidency.

To our eternal sorrow the fact that he’s right means the Democrats will do whatever is necessary to pass something to maintain his viability.

~McQ

Obama: Selling a Pig in a Poke

Does it bother you that a president who is out pushing like hell to pass a bill that will fundamentally change the way we receive health care, and apparently most now believe that change will be negative, apparently isn’t familiar with what he’s pushing?

With the public’s trust in his handling of health care tanking (50%-44% of Americans disapprove), the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to pass Obamacare: all Obama, all the time. As part of that effort, Obama hosted a conference call with leftist bloggers urging them to pressure Congress to pass his health plan as soon as possible.

During the call, a blogger from Maine said he kept running into an Investors Business Daily article that claimed Section 102 of the House health legislation would outlaw private insurance. He asked: “Is this true? Will people be able to keep their insurance and will insurers be able to write new policies even though H.R. 3200 is passed?” President Obama replied: “You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.”

It’s only a question that’s been in the news for a week after it was raised in an Investors Business Daily editorial. That’s the entire reason the blogger brought it up. Salesmanship 101 – know your product. He’s been so busy flapping his jaws about how we have to pass this now that he hasn’t even taken the time to understand what “this” is.

IBD said the provision would, in effect, outlaw private insurance.

The Heritage Foundation did a little digging into this provision to figure out the real impact it will have. Here’s what they have to say:

[T]he House bill does not outright outlaw private individual health insurance, but it does effectively regulate it out of existence. The House bill does allow private insurance to be sold, but only “Exchange-participating health benefits plans.” In order to qualify as an “Exchange-participating health benefits plan,” all health insurance plans must conform to a slew of new regulations, including community rating and guaranteed issue. These will all send the cost of private individual health insurance skyrocketing. Furthermore, all these new regulations would not apply just to individual insurance plans, but to all insurance plans. So the House bill will also drive up the cost of your existing employer coverage as well. Until, of course, it becomes so expensive that your company makes the perfectly economical decision to dump you into the government plan.

President Obama may not care to study how many people will lose their current health insurance if his plan becomes law, but like most Americans, we do. That is why we partnered with the Lewin Group to study how many Americans would be forced into the government “option” under the House health plan. Here is what we found:

* Approximately 103 million people would be covered under the new public plan and, as a consequence, about 83.4 million people would lose their private insurance. This would represent a 48.4 percent reduction in the number of people with private coverage.

* About 88.1 million workers would see their current private, employer-sponsored health plan go away and would be shifted to the public plan.

* Yearly premiums for the typical American with private coverage could go up by as much as $460 per privately-insured person, as a result of increased cost-shifting stemming from a public plan modeled on Medicare.

So it ends up not killing the private insurance business outright with a bullet through the brain, but instead, by slow strangulation. Same effect, but it will just take much longer. Legislate rules and requirements which will up the cost of private insurance to the point that the economic incentive is to dump it in favor of the cheaper public option.

Like your plan? Like your doctor?

Too bad.

But the man who promised you could keep both couldn’t be bothered to become “familiar” with this particular “provision”.

~McQ

Health Care Reform – The Moral Argument Against

Joseph C Phillips writes an excellent post at Big Hollywood addressing the health care issue (it’s a comparison between Canada’s system and ours which goes beyond just the obvious differences). In it, he gets to the moral essence of what those who want the type of reform Democrats are promising are really asking for. It is, as you’ll see, a damning review:

I must remember to share this article with my friend Bryan. Bryan is a cancer survivor. I have had friends that have lost their battles with cancer so his continued presence on this earth is a great joy to me and a fact of which I am sure he is also no doubt ecstatic. Bryan is particularly interested in the current state of health care costs because his insurance paid for what he terms a “measly portion” of his treatment- he is currently burdened with the cost of what his insurance did not cover. He simply can’t afford the astronomical cost. His complaint is echoed by many clamoring for nationalized healthcare. What remains unclear is under what moral principle one man can demand that others pay for his healthcare and whether any policy not firmly grounded in a moral truth can be just.

Bryan’s story perfectly illustrates the truth that the rising cost of healthcare has coincided with the rising quality of healthcare. It is true that not too long ago he would have paid considerably less for his cancer treatment. The bad news is that he would not have been around long enough to spend his savings. New drugs and new technologies lengthened his life as it they have for hundreds of thousands of others. Progress comes with a price tag.

Bryan was not denied care. In fact no one in America is denied healthcare. He had insurance and he has an income with which to pay what the insurance didn’t cover. The fact is– he would much rather spend his money on something else other than hospital bills reaching into the thousands of dollars. What better solution than a system where cancer treatment is paid for by someone else? He may be interested to learn that the U.S. ranks first in the world in cancer survivor rates and that breast cancer survivors in Canada have filed a class action suit against several hospitals that forced them to wait 12 weeks for radiation therapy. Obviously neither Bryan nor other national healthcare advocates want to wait in lines or have others decide if they are to live or die. What they want is someone else to foot the bill even if children receiving a public education must suffer.

Those three emphasized lines are the crux of the battle. On one side, you have people who want the care but want someone else to pay for it. They’d like to call that “fairness” because they can’t afford (or don’t want to pay) the cost of the care necessary to save their lives. On the other hand, we have costly treatments being developed that save the lives of people who previously wouldn’t survive the disease. Those who develop and administer those treatments want to be paid what they’re worth. That is the incentive that drives further research and development of advanced treatments.

How, morally, do you demand others pay for your health care problems? We’d all scream and holler if we were required to help pay for our neighbor’s roof if it was damaged in a storm. Through no real fault of his own, his roof was damaged. And insurance only paid a portion of it. Would we accept the idea the government has a moral right to take our money to pay for his roof?

Of course not. We might help him voluntarily or we might not, figuring it was his responsibility to plan and save for such an eventuality. But we’d certainly never accept the premise that government had any moral right to demand we pay for our neighbor’s roof. Yet with health care, that premise remains front and center.

Phillips hits the nail right on the head when he notes his friend Bryan would “much rather spend his money on something else other than hospital bills reaching into the thousands of dollars.” Of course he would. So would we all. But that still begs the question of what moral right we have to obligate others to that duty? Notice I didn’t ask how we do it “legally”. As Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union should have taught us, the immoral can be made legal at the stroke of a pen.

The Democrat’s solution, of course, is to declare what Bryan wants to be a “right”. What it would really be is a legal privilege granted and enforced by the coercive power of the state. Morally, it would be no different than declaring that every citizen has a “right” to a sound roof and legally making it the obligation of every other citizen to pay to ensure that “right” is fulfilled.

We wouldn’t stand for that. Yet we’re watching that exact immoral premise being approvingly considered by a portion of the population which has no problem with the coercive obligation of their fellow citizens to their selfish wants in the name of “fairness”.

~McQ