Friday, January 30, 2004

THE BUSH HEALTH CARE PLAN: DEREGULATORY AGENDA UNDER A NEW, SOFTER BANNER

President pro tem Bush yesterday outlined his vision for fixing the American health care system. The proposals, though, had little to do with the real problems in health care (runaway prescription drug prices, tens of millions without access to health care, and millions more on the cusp of losing health care due to rising costs and and insecure job market), and more to do with advancing the ongoing Republican agenda to create tax shelters for the rich and to prevent regular people from seeking retribution from big corporations through the civil justice system.

"Yesterday I gave a talk about how to continue economic vitality. One of them is to help controlling costs of health care. There's way to do that without nationalizing health care. I'm absolutely convinced if the federal government tries to run the health care system, it will foul it up -- people will get lousy care, the doctor-patient relationship will be destroyed, and the cost of medicine will go up. I believe in -- I believe in allowing small businesses to pool risk across association health plans in order to control costs. I believe in expanding health savings accounts for Americans, which will create cost savings in the system. I believe we need medical liability reform all across America to get rid of the junk lawsuits that raise the cost of medicine. "

I'm not sure about the rationale for not having a single-payer system: people already get lousy care (or none at all), and the cost of medicine is skyrocketing (just since Bush took office, medical care costs are up 13.5%, versus 5% overall increase in the CPI).

It's not a bad idea to allow small businesses to buy into larger insurance pools, but there is really no justification for believing that personal savings accounts will create cost savings in the health care system. All that would do is allow people with high enough incomes to be able to shelter their earnings from income taxes. So the rich pay less taxes, the poor still pay taxes (because their marginal propensity to save is near zero or even negative), shoulder more of the tax burden, but still cannot afford health care.

On the "junk lawsuits" issue, the Fortune 500 companies and indutry associations behind the American Tort Reform Association would like to limit you to a maximum $250,000 in awards should, for example, someone you love die while in the care of a hospital that maintains unsafe nurse to patient ratios in order to improve their bottom line...or, say, a doctor performs unneccessary heart surgery on you and scores of other patients, and his employer knows but takes no action to keep him from practicing. (Sadly, these things really happen).

I'm not defending trial lawyers. Without being a legal expert, it's plain to see there are real problems in the system that should be fixed. But simply exonerating big corporations (who patronize the president) from an culpability is clearly not the way to go to help people.

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