Friday, January 23, 2004

Rights & Reason: Bush Lies on Health Care

John Kerry’s stump speech focuses on the “right” to health care—just eliminate the “creed of greed” and the profits of HMOs and drug companies, and everyone can have all the health care they’re entitled to. Ted Kennedy, in support of his man Kerry, wants to force private businesses to fully subsidize their employees’ health costs. It’s nice to see the left never learns and never apologizes for its ways.

It’s hard to get too upset over this. Democrats are Democrats, after all. What does annoy me, however, is this passage from the president’s State of the Union address:
A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America’s heath care the best in the world.
This statement is a complete lie. America already has a “government-run health care system.” It’s called Medicare. And managed care firms are not capitalist entities. They’re byproducts of the government’s efforts to forcibly control health care prices. The president’s prescription drug program will eventually lead to similar price controls on pharmaceuticals.

Bush is only quibbling with the system’s form, not its substance. His administration prosecutes any physician that tries to independently negotiate prices with HMOs as an antitrust offender. He accepts the government’s basic role in “expanding access” and controlling costs. And he’s promised to veto any substantial changes to the prescription drug benefit. Where exactly is the free market in all of this?

Bush’s apologists will point to the health savings accounts provision of the prescription drug bill. That’s a trinket, nothing more. The HSA is a symbol of this administration’s approach to health care: The government will allow you to keep some of your money to pay for your own healthcare expenses. How thoughtful. But if the president was genuinely committed to “private medicine,” he would, at a minimum, allow all healthcare expenses to be deductible from an individual’s income tax. He would also permit individuals to opt-out of paying for or using the Medicare system. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. You’re more likely to see free market reforms from John Kerry than George Bush.

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