False choices mar health care talks

As the debate over health care reform rages on, some members of Congress would like the public to believe that the choice being presented is between a government takeover and a free market system in which individual citizens make their own health care choices.
Tain’t so.
“Republicans want to protect the right of Americans to make their own health care decisions, to pick their own doctors and their own plans,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. “We could have a plan in a few weeks if the goal is not a government takeover. We’ve never seen the government operate a plan of any kind effectively and at the budgets we talked about,” a Saturday news report read.
Sen. DeMint knows better.
Fact number one is that the government, either at the federal or the state level, already provides more than half of the health care Americans get through Medi-care, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and the health insurance provided to government employees at all levels, including members of Congress.
Fact number two is that the administrative cost of government-provided health care in the U.S. is far, far below that provided by the private sector.
Fact number three is that health care is provided to hundreds of millions of men, women and children in rich nations around the world for approximately $6,000 less annually for each individual than health care costs in the United States. All of those universal health care systems are designed by and operated by governments. Health care outcomes are better than in the U.S. in many of those countries.
Fact four is that none of the plans being proposed by Democrats would limit the health care choices people can make any more than today’s system does.
Jim DeMint knows that most Americans don’t “make their own health care decisions” — and, incidentally, he also knows that the health decisions they do make on their own are very often not that smart.
Most insured Americans get their coverage from their employer. It is the company, not the worker, which chooses the insurance company and the coverage.
It is true enough that Americans who live in a town like Iola which has an adequate number of family practitioners can choose which doc to see. And, as always, the wealthy have the broadest range of choices. But if a patient, rich or poor, needs a specialist, he or she usually is referred to a doctor the family physician works with and trusts. The patient very rarely disputes the choice, lacking the information needed to propose an alternative.
And, of course, decisions about tests, drugs, surgeries, anesthetics, etc., etc., etc., are very properly made by the physicians and other experts who provide the care. It is, in short, a rhetorical myth that our fee-for-service private health care system operates at the direction of consumers. It is, rather, shaped and directed by providers; by those who earn money providing health care.
Those who make the most money from the system are the insurance companies, which is why President Barack Obama continues to push for a government health in-surance program “to keep the private companies honest.” It is also why so much of the money now being spent fighting the administration plan comes from that industry and its very highly paid executives. Their bottom line de-pends on keeping things just as they are.

AS PRESIDENT Obama explained so calmly and thoroughly last week in his press conference, the cost of health care is on track to keep on increasing until it will literally break the country. Since that won’t be allowed to happen, it is imperative to bring it under control in a planned, deliberate way while also making health care available to the 47-to-50 million Americans now without it.
Ideology has no place in the discussion. Health care is a human essential, like clothing, shelter, clean water, healthful food and education. The way health care is now being provided in the U.S. is ruinously expensive. The way our health care is being allocated leaves out about 16 percent of the population. Neither condition is acceptable. We can and we must do better.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.