Bad Medicine

Commentary by Pete du Pont

ObamaCare is hazardous to your health.

President Obama addressed Congress two weeks ago on the issue of health care, and on the same day an Associated Press GfK poll showed that the proportion of Americans who strongly approve of the way he is doing his job has fallen from 41% in December to 24% now. And the percentage of people who strongly disapprove of his performance has risen from 6% to 35%.

Those serious declines no doubt have to do with many issues--economic decline, the massive spending increases (enacted and proposed) of $6.5 trillion over the next decade, the coming massive tax increases that are presidential and congressional priorities, and currently most important, the proposed governmental takeover of health care. On that matter, more than 1.3 million people have signed and sent to Congress the Salem Radio Network's Free Our Health Care Now! petition to make sure individuals, not the national government, make their health care decisions. (Disclosure: The petition incorporated information form the National Center for Policy Analysis, of which I am chairman.)

But the Democratic congressional leadership, led by Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, has now offered a bureaucratic, government-intrusive health care proposal. The details change daily as the bill works its way through the Finance Committee, which Mr. Baucus chairs, for there are more than 500 proposed amendments being considered. But the bill would start off by imposing annual fees of $6.7 billion on health insurance companies, $4 billion on medical device producers, $2.3 billion on drug manufacturers and $750 million on clinical laboratories, all of which would surely be passed on to consumers in higher prices. The insurance companies' $6.7 billion fees alone would come to some 60% of the industry's after tax earnings.

And then American families who do not have health insurance--the people the Democrats claim they're trying to help--would be assessed finds of between $750 to $1,900 a year. All this reflects Congress's simple objective: government rather than individual control of our health care.

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But America's health care is not doing badly. Indeed a National Center for Policy Analysis study from last March shows how much better we are doing than countries like Canada, Britain, and other European nations that have government health care control:

  • Breast-cancer mortality is 52% higher in Germany and 88% higher in Britain than in the U.S.
  • Prostate-cancer mortality is 457% higher in Norway and 604% higher in Britain than in the U.S.
  • Eighty-nine percent of middle-aged women in the U.S. have had a mammogram, compared with 72% in Canada.
  • Fifty-four percent of men in the U.S. have had a prostate-specific antigen test, compared with 16% of Canadian men.

As for the availability of health care, another study shows that 74% of those in the U.S. meet for scheduled doctors appointments within four weeks, while only 42% of British and 40% of Canadians do. Only 10% of Americans wait longer than two months, while 33% of Brits and 42% of Canadians wait that long.

On average, doctors in a survey say neurosurgery should be performed within 5.8 weeks, but in Canada it takes about 31 weeks. And orthopedic surgery should be within 11 weeks, but in Canada it takes 37 weeks. So it is pretty clear that government health-insurance monopoly is dangerously inefficient.

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The government-operated Baucus plan would impose big costs on Americans, in terms of both money and freedom..

First there is the original proposal of a 35%--since raised to 40%--excise tax on companies that offer health-care plans that cost more than $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for families, just to make sure that government can control costs and health care plan contents.

The individuals' cost of the required Baucus health care plans are very high, As The Wall Street Journal pointed out the other day, for a family of four making $42,000 the "government would subsidize 80% of their premium and pay $1,500 to offset cost-sharing," but the family would "still pay $6,000 a year--or 14.3% of their total income." As family incomes slowly rise, so would their health care costs--to 17% or 18% of income. In committee, the subsidies will likely be increased, but the individual's cost will still be too high.

The plan would cut some $500 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, including the excellent Medicare Advantage plan that gives 10 million senior citizens private health-care options. Giving choices to seniors is simply an anathema to government-control believers.

The federal government would also likely follow the lead of states and impose a list of benefits that must be included, even if all patients don't need them. There are now about 2,100 state-based mandates, for such services as acupuncture, wigs, massage therapy and in vitro fertilization.

Finally, Mr. Obama also believes in community rating, a requirement (already existing, in one form or another, in 11 states) that limits the differences in what companies can charge people for their coverage, regardless of their age or medical condition. That means younger, healthy people would pay much more than their care would cost--yet they would pay big fines if they don't take this bad bargain.

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So what is a better solution? First, allow everyone to purchase health insurance across state lines (difficult under current law, as you must buy your insurance in your own state), so that they can get the best possible policies at the best possible prices.

Second, individuals should get the same tax break that companies get when they supply health insurance for their employees. All policy payments should be tax deductible, either to the company or the individual.

Third, health insurance should be portable. Companies should help their employees own their own insurance so that it travels with them from job to job, state to state, and is under their control.

Fourth, Congress should enact tort reform so that doctors can do what is best for their patients instead of practicing costly legal defensive medicine.

And finally, let people purchase insurance that meets their needs, rather than requiring intrusive, one-size-fits-all federal government mandates.