April 21, 2009

April 21, 2009 | Commentary on Health Care

Obama's Cure Worse Than What Sickens Us

Congress is working too fast.

Lawmakers rushed to pass the $700 billion bailout bill . . . the $787 billion "stimulus" bill . . . the $400 billion "omnibus" appropriations bill.

Now they're poised to hike health-care spending by $634 billion over 10 years. The plan could cost at least twice that amount.

Is our health system really that bad off? Patients the world over flock here for the best care. Bill Clinton travels the world, but he checks into Columbia Presbyterian for bypass surgery. Massachusetts is only a short hop from Canada and its socialized health system, yet Sen. Ted Kennedy opts to get his cancer treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Of course, our health system has some big problems, but the vast majority of Americans are insured, and they rate their coverage as good or even excellent.

And the Census Bureau report pegging the number of uninsureds at 46 million can mislead. Many of those were uninsured for only a short time. Typically, these are people who change jobs and must wait 30 or 60 days for their new coverage.

Another large chunk - 20 percent of the uninsured - are uninsured by choice. Another 25 percent qualify for federal coverage but don't enroll. Plus, uninsured non-citizens, including those here illegally, get rolled into the 46 million.

One thing to remember: The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986 ensures access to health services to everyone residing in the United States - legally or illegally. No one is kicked out of the ER for lack of coverage.

The part of our health system that's broken isn't the care; it's the financing.

The way to fix it is not to have government pick up an even larger share of the tab. The answer is to give individuals more control over how their health care dollars are spent. That includes letting them decide what kind of coverage they want, be it a health savings account or some other options.

For this to happen, Washington will have to change the tax code. It also means establishing a system where Americans can select the coverage that best suits their situation - and keep it even when changing jobs.

Unfortunately, the House budget sets the stage for an incremental federal takeover of medical service financing and delivery. It's the wrong prescription.

Jason Fodeman is a Graduate Fellow in Health Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

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First appeared in the Boston Herald