Health care reform has hardly left the starting line. Yet many self-appointed pundits are calling the effort a failure by the Obama Administration. They say Congress is stuck in an ideological quagmire. Many also characterize Democrat proposals as a government takeover of health care and as a socialist attack on the U.S. private free enterprise system.
Puhleeaasee! Give me a break. [See The Nation's 10 Costliest Medicare Markets.]
The government took over health care a long, long time ago. For better, but mostly for worse, government rules dominate the health-care process. Government licenses the prescription drugs we are allowed to take. Medicare and Medicaid programs set the tone for the cost of most medical procedures. Private insurance companies set rates that are driven by those costs of medical services -- costs dominated by Uncle Sam and a host of government agencies and rules at all levels of government. Private enterprise? It's locked onto any number of federal and state teats and is busily sucking money out of the system. That's the business model.
Critics say the Obama proposals would lead to the rationing of health care. They point to government-run systems in other countries as examples of what we don't want. People are denied care in those systems by heartless bureaucrats. There are endless waits for procedures. Funny thing is, those despicable government systems cost much less than our alleged private approach to health care. And people there live longer. Oh, they also like their health care systems more than Americans like ours. But what do they know!
And that point about rationing care? Well, the last time I checked, care is rationed every day by our private health system. Nearly 50 million Americans have no health insurance. Sure, many of these people may only temporarily be without coverage. But it's a safe bet that health care is rationed for millions of them every day. But it's also rationed for people with health insurance. U.S. insurers decline to cover certain procedures. Or, the amounts they will pay for serious health emergencies may cover only a small fraction of the charges. As a result, problems in paying for health care are responsible for nearly two out of every three personal bankruptcies filed in this country. Does this sound like a system that is working?
Of course not. Then there's the fact that we spend one-sixth of our resources on health care -- a much higher percentage than in other countries, including those that compete with us for jobs and future economic success. One reason (and only one) that Detroit automakers got beaten up by foreign competitors is that their health care expenses were so high. Expand that picture to other parts of the economy and you can see why our national competitiveness is being drained away by health care costs.
The government's two major medical programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are literally bankrupting the country. If you are upset at the size of today's budget deficits, then don't stick around for the budget mess that will be caused when Medicare and Medicaid run out of money. Without changes to these programs, a financial disaster is imminent. And it's a sure thing. If we act soon, we just might be able to reduce future costs and allow us to continue honoring our commitments to older and poorer citizens. If we don't, their care will undoubtedly suffer and so will the health of our economy.
Did President Obama try to move too quickly on health care reform? Probably, but it's hard to blame him. The failure of the Clintons' health initiative 15 years ago is a constant reminder of how hard it is to secure meaningful health care changes. And Obama had great momentum coming out of an historic election victory and sustained it by enacting a huge stimulus program and also pushing through other massive spending increases in the federal budget. So he tried to strike while the iron was hot, and came close to getting bills out of Congress before the end of the summer.
Now, that's not going to happen. And that delay is probably a good thing as well. We don't want a repeat of the Wall Street bailout programs that were hurried through Congress so quickly last year that some legislators really did not understand what they were voting for. We need health reforms that look good in 20 years, not just for the 2010 Congressional elections.
So, let's take our time and let's get it right.