Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kerry offers same-old-same on healthcare

As usual, John Kerry has a pretty fair grasp on a problem, but the wrong solution. In an op-ed piece in Monday’s Boston Globe, the junior Senator from Massachusetts exhorts his readers that it’s time for “Getting moving on healthcare.” He correctly identifies the trend by big business, led by the likes of Wal-Mart and General Motors, to escape from the bondage of employee-benefit healthcare, thereby separating individual choice and responsibility from the institutionalized hegemony that has been a large contributor to the price-inflation and general misuse of wellness in our society. As he notes in the column, “it shouldn’t be a surprise. Good corporate citizens [sic] are coping with a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. GM pays $1,500 in healthcare costs on every vehicle it manufactures. Toyota pays only $200.”

Kerry also correctly sees the problems of the current system, declaring that, “We’re stuck with a 20th-century healthcare system that just doesn’t work for a 21st-century economy. The traditional employer-based healthcare system can no longer meet all our needs. Costs are too high, and businesses overseas are operating on a whole different playing field.” He notes the rise in healthcare costs, and that “[u]nder this administration’s watch, the number of uninsured Americans has grown by 6 million and premiums are up a whopping 73 percent.”

But now he falls off the track, calling immediately for “big ideas and bold solutions” to “make sure that all Americans benefit.” After deeming the corporate moves a bad trend, he calls for his own solution: a federal reinsurance plan to cut business costs for catastrophic care, universal coverage for all children … and more universal coverage, for everyone else who currently remains “uncovered” – whether by choice or by necessity. So much for finding a solution, instead of covering up the problem with more red-tape and bureaucracy.

Although Kerry does say he wants to bring about this latter condition by using “targeted tax credits for small businesses, middle-class families, and people between jobs,” he still seeks to socialize the process, thus benefiting the insurance industry, the Big Pharma companies, the profligate hospital-builders and the federal bureaucrats – the same sectors of society who’ve been the major players in letting the situation become the entangled mess it is today. (He does suggest that the health plan now enjoyed by members of Congress would be a good model to follow; however, his plan for paying for it is the usual “repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the rich” nostrum. Exactly who does he think those “targeted tax credits” would be going to?)

This editor is getting tired of repeating it, but the answer to healthcare reform does not lie in shuffling the deck chairs, but in shifting the entire focus from “disease care” to “wellness” – away from the insurance and chronic aftercare models of a society of helpless children, and toward the savings plans and other preventative measures that responsible adults should embrace. General Motors, and to some extent Wal-Mart, are among the companies showing the way to move in that direction, whatever their motives otherwise. On the more progressive libertarian side, Whole Foods Markets even pays its employees to encourage frugal use of health dollars, by making them their own in the amount of a deductible, allowing them to choose and pay for their own coverage policies under the company umbrella.

Meanwhile, with the encouragement of medical savings accounts, incentives promoting healthier living in general, and a focus on examinations and pre-testing (to discover ailments at their inception instead of deep into infestation) … the whole paradigm might be shifted, with at least a prayer of finding a real answer.

Kerry would do far better, if he truly wants to see a transition out of this mess, to take a page from fellow Democrat Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, who has at least put something a little new on the table with his Cover Tennessee approach. If nothing else, this partially subsidized program, due to begin enrollments later this year, offers working folks a portability option as well as an affordable bare-bones coverage level, instead of just another government program from the same folks who tried to bring us Hillarycare over a decade ago.

Of course Kerry never had to deal with the pilot program for that monstrosity, as Bredesen is still doing with TennCare. Maybe it took that kind of rude awakening to get someone in power to look outside the box for a change. Amazing what seeing reality up close and personal can do, even for a politician’s perspective!



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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