Friday, August 28, 2009

How is the Health Care System Broken?

The phrase "We all agree that the system is broken" has become common in the health care reform debate. Politicians and commentators invoke it to show that we have a common value or belief that should compel us to desire reform. The phrase has been used to justify every type of reform on the table. But in truth, we agree on very little about this 'broken system.' We can't even agree on what 'the system' is and much less how it is broken.

Imagine a professional basketball team that has trouble winning games. They have defensive and offensive strategies that they prescribe to and develop a rotation for the players. Despite their efforts, they are not winning. The players come to an agreement. "This is not working. We need a change," they tell each other.

But what is not working? Some of them are referring to the defense. Some of them are referring to the offense. Some of them are referring to their player rotation. Little does the team understand, but several of the players are even referring to the sport of basketball. When they say it isn't working, it's because they want to give volleyball or soccer a shot.

Such is the situation in our country. People say the system is broken. But what they mean varies. Some are speaking of the health insurance industry. Some are speaking of the high price of health care. But we are surprised to find out that many refer to the American standard of economic freedom. They suggest that we ought to be playing a whole new game.

Like everyone else, I have my own opinions as to what is broken in the American health care system. I could write pages (I have written pages!) about interferences in the patient-doctor relationship, the money wasted on the insurance industry, and about how government and insurance involvement in the market create artificially high prices. But there is one 'system' that is definitely not broken. There is one 'system' that keeps the industry afloat despite all other missteps. That system is the American 'system' of a free market.

If we are more precise in our description of a free market, we cannot even call it a system. The free market is the state of the economy in a free nation. In a free market there is no government organization that coordinates buying and selling. There are no laws about how much of a product someone can buy or how much it can be sold for. The free market is the economic result of a nation recognizing the God-given, inherent rights of humanity. It is a natural state that allows the rise and fall of man based on his actions.

Anyone involved in the medical field can see that the above description of the market does not completely fit the medical industry. A huge part of health care really has become a government system. There are huge government organizations- Medicare, Medicaid, and even the FDA- that coordinate buying and selling. There are laws governing who can buy health care products and how much they can be sold for. There are laws in place that do not allow man to rise and fall based on his actions, but attempt to enforce a universal mediocrity. In these ways the medical industry has become a controlled system.

However, much of the medical industry is still free- it is not systematized. It is this part of the industry, the free market, that keeps all the rest afloat. The market responds and equilibrates when the federal government refuses to completely reimburse doctors for seeing Medicaid patients. The equilibrium is achieved by paying patients being charged more for their health care. The market responds to FDA regulations on the pharmaceutical industry that make the development of new, lifesaving drugs cost over one billion dollars per drug to develop. The market equilibrates as patients pay incredibly ramped-up prices to pay for the hoops drug-makers must jump through.

It is the free market, and not systematized government intervention, that has brought many recent cost-saving innovations to the market. Surgical centers are popping up all over the nation that perform surgeries at a fraction of the cost of local hospitals. Lower prices for healthcare are appear as midwives, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners become more available. They provide competition that also brings down the price of local doctors. Wal-Mart recently rocked the pharmacy industry by launching their $4 prescription plan, making hundreds of essential medications available for $4 a month. Competing pharmacies nationwide responded immediately by dropping their prices. These and many other occurrences in the free market have helped keep health care afloat despite all other system interventions.

So perhaps we do agree that the system is broken. It does need to change. It needs to release its death-grip on the medical industry and the free market. Sacred freedoms must be preserved and the market must be obstructed. If freedom of the market is preserved and enthroned, health care prices will go down. Patient access to doctors will increase. The poor will be able to afford health care. Health care will not just survive or stay afloat, but thrive.

Rusty Scalpel

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My submitted topic for Senator McCaskill's "Healthcare Listening Forum" (Town Hall Meeting) in West Plains

We hope Senator McCaskill understands that government involvement in either the health care or health insurance industry is the last thing that many of her constituents in the West Plains area want. We keep hearing about industry reform, but it is not just an industry that will be affected. Washington is threatening to take over our jobs and tell us how to do them, to tell us how we have to interact as patients and providers, and even manage our lifestyles to fit their definition of healthy. We consider our freedoms in these aspects sacred and God-given. So we are not looking for Washington to produce the 'right' plan for us to support. We want Washington to stay away from attempting to centrally plan our economy and dedicate their efforts to defending our liberties.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Boogeyman, Wild Misrepresentations, and Blatant Falsehoods

David Axelrod, the Senior White House Advisor, recently sent out an email meant to calm public outrage and 'dispel myths' about health care reform. In it he quoted President Obama at a recent town hall meeting saying, “Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed.”

Here is my disagreement with the President and his staff and the whole Democratic Party. I object to the President and Legislators enslaving an entire industry, stripping Americans of their rights and livelihood, and putting them at the mercy of the government for survival. This may sound like one of the President's 'wild misrepresentations,' but it is a very real claim and the essence of the legislation that the President is promoting. For evidence I quote Mr. Axelrod's email (material also available here) under the heading "8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage".

1. Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.
2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.
3. Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.
4. Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.
5. Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.
6. Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.
7. Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.
8. Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.

After years of immersion in liberal philosophy, the above proposals may sound like a good thing. Discrimination for pre-existing conditions may be considered unjust. Incomplete coverage due to chronic illness because of lifetime caps may seem unfair. But let's use regular language to explain what the government is trying to do to the insurance industry. Uncle Sam is telling the men and women who make a living by selling insurance policies the following:

You must sell policies to everyone for the same price, no matter how much money you know you will lose in the process (points 1 and 5). You must bear the full burden of their care to extent that the Legislature deems necessary, irregardless of how much it will cost you (points 2 and 3). No matter how much money you lose on the customer, even if it sends your company to bankruptcy and your family to bread lines, you may not decline them coverage (points 4, 6, and 8). Despite the fact your customers are paying much less for their polices than the actual cost of the medical care, you may not increase their out-of-pocket expenses (point 2). Oh, and you've got to cover their adult children too (point 7).

This is slavery. Slavery is what the legislature is proposing for the insurance industry. Imagine such rules being implemented in any other industry. Imagine, for example, if you had the job of mowing lawns and these regulations were established in the lawn mowing industry: Imagine that you were told that you must mow everyone's lawn for the same price, regardless of how many hours it takes to mow or how big the lawn is. Imagine being told you have to accept every customer that came your way for that price, even if you knew you would lose money on the contract. Imagine being told that you had to mow your customers lawn as often as they wanted without charging them any extra. Imagine being told that not only did these customers had lifetime contracts with you, but so did their children. From here it's easy to imagine quitting the business or shooting yourself in the head.

Americans are intelligent enough to realize that the insurance industry cannot continue to exist under the proposed policies. If a company is not allowed to compensate for increased costs by raising prices, what will happen to it? It will cease to exist. Instead of coverage for all, there will be coverage for none. But of course, that may be the true purpose of the legislation- setting our path for true socialization of the entire health care industry.

President Obama and the opponents of freedom in the Legislature figure that Americans won't stir against such abject tyranny because they are picking on a despised industry. President Obama points out that the insurance industry profits have been 'too high.' Apparently he believes it is the job of the government to make sure we don't make too much money. We all have had beefs with insurance companies, so he and our representatives figure we won't mind if the government takes over their jobs. Here they are wrong.

Health insurance providers have been collectively written off as an evil industry in an effort to dehumanize them. We don't think of the reform bill affecting fellow Americans, but that it will punish a greedy profit-seeking industry. But that industry is privately owned and provides employment for over 400,000 Americans who count on those profits to feed their families. They are no different than Americans in any other industry, all of which are profit-seeking. Why should we expect or allow them to roll over and become a national sacrifice?

We will not allow their sacrifice because we know that freedoms taken away from one group of Americans means a loss of freedom for all Americans. If we begin to sacrifice the unalienable rights of some for our comforts and commodities, then our rights will never be safe again. Once we find ourselves outside of the majority interest, we too will find our rights forfeited for the 'good of society.' And so we will fiercely and passionately fight, since our own God-given liberties are at stake, for the rights of the men and women of the insurance industry. We see all too clearly that if they go down, we may find ourselves next on the chopping block of socialism.

Rusty Scalpel

This blog can be submitted for White House correction at

Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine

President Obama certainly has a gift for oration, but he doesn't hold a candle to this Reagan fellow. The guy just seems to make plain sense. In contrast to the nonsensical politically-calculated speeches we hear these days, this appeals to reason and logic. It stirs our better feelings, glorifying instead of condemning the freedom, independence, and national virtue that is our heritage. It is truly refreshing. This Ronald Reagan fellow should run for public office.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

When the Majority of Health Care is Government-Funded

I wish I could say that I believed the Blue Dog Democrats will stand firm on health care reform issues. But I am afraid that the party-line vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday night is a preview of what we will see in the final House and Senate votes on health care reform in September.

As I contemplate the bill my heart fills with sorrow. Where are the righteous legislators who should be defending against such a breach of freedom and logic? Have we fallen so far into ignorance and selfishness as to have elected a body who will allow this legislation to pass?

Medicare and Medicaid enrollment already stand at nearly 100 million, about one third of our nation's population. (45 million and 42 million respectively) In many regions (like where I live), Medicare and Medicaid patients already make up the majority of health care visits. With the addition of the government public insurance option and government subsidies of private plans, government control of the health care industry will increase.

As health care providers are painfully aware, the national legislature controls reimbursement rates to physicians for visits from Medicare and Medicaid patients. In perhaps the majority of cases (especially in non-rural designated areas), government reimbursement for care rendered to these patients does not cover the cost of the care. In other words, health care providers lose money every time they see a government patient.

Economically speaking, the legislature has established price controls for over one third of all health care visits. Doctors make up their losses by overcharging their other patients. Thus, patients who pay with cash or through a private insurance plan lose money twice: once when they are overcharged for their visits to compensate for government patients and a second time when their taxes cover the bill for these patients.

We can see that Uncle Sam has already torn a sizable hole in the pocket of self-paying, self-sufficient Americans by forcing them to fund the care of 1/3 of the population. How much more will he siphon from their bank accounts with the addition of the government public insurance option and subsidies to pay for the insurance of millions of more Americans?

We can see that additional government funding of health care will be a major problem. The problem is made much worse when we consider other goodies (check out this link) that have been included in the House Version of the Bill. This bill, laced with measures that strip freedom and human dignity and provisions for future federal power grabs, is a collection of sophisticated price controls. As we have discussed in the past and well understand, such measures must fail, regardless of their sophistication.

I cannot emphasize enough how disastrous the bill will be if passed. American health care survives today even with the existing burden of heavy price control. But the bill is too much. It will not "fix" health care. It will cause the health care industry to grind to a halt, necessitating further government takeover. Please let your legislators know about your feelings on this issue.

Rusty Scalpel