Friday, November 27, 2009

Scrap the health care bill and start over

It's probably a futile hope, but Charles Krauthammer argues that the two health care proposals in the House and Senate are so gargantuan, inefficient, and ill-considered that Congress should just scrap them and start over building one reform at a time instead of trying to create a huge monstrous comprehensive bill that is just filled with giveaways to gain the support of special interests and reluctant Democrats.
Then do health care the right way -- one reform at a time, each simple and simplifying, aimed at reducing complexity, arbitrariness and inefficiency.

First, tort reform. This is money -- the low-end estimate is about half a trillion per decade -- wasted in two ways. Part is simply hemorrhaged into the legal system to benefit a few jackpot lawsuit winners and an army of extravagantly rich malpractice lawyers such as John Edwards.

The rest is wasted within the medical system in the millions of unnecessary tests, procedures and referrals undertaken solely to fend off lawsuits -- resources wasted on patients who don't need them and that could be redirected to the uninsured who really do.

In the 4,000-plus pages of the two bills, there is no tort reform. Indeed, the House bill actually penalizes states that dare "limit attorneys' fees or impose caps on damages." Why? Because, as Howard Dean has openly acknowledged, Democrats don't want "to take on the trial lawyers." What he didn't say -- he didn't need to -- is that they give millions to the Democrats for precisely this kind of protection.

Second, even more simple and simplifying, abolish the prohibition against buying health insurance across state lines.

Some states have very few health insurers. Rates are high. So why not allow interstate competition? After all, you can buy oranges across state lines. If you couldn't, oranges would be extremely expensive in Wisconsin, especially in winter.

And the answer to the resulting high Wisconsin orange prices wouldn't be the establishment of a public option -- a federally run orange-growing company in Wisconsin -- to introduce "competition." It would be to allow Wisconsin residents to buy Florida oranges.

But neither bill lifts the prohibition on interstate competition for health insurance. Because this would obviate the need -- the excuse -- for the public option, which the left wing of the Democratic Party sees (correctly) as the royal road to fully socialized medicine.

Third, tax employer-provided health insurance. This is an accrued inefficiency of 65 years, an accident of World War II wage controls. It creates a $250 billion annual loss of federal revenue -- the largest tax break for individuals in the entire federal budget.

This reform is the most difficult to enact, for two reasons. The unions oppose it. And Barack Obama savaged the idea when John McCain proposed it during last year's campaign.

Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method -- a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one -- tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 -- and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.
It won't ever happen, but these are reforms that conservatives would happily support and we could achieve some of that blessed bipartisanship that President Obama pretends he so desires. Just think if he'd chosen these sorts of ideas and moved outward from the center instead of starting on the left side and trying to put in enough sweetners to attract the Mary Landrieus of the Senate.