Health Care Summit: Missing A Few Key Facts

Late last week, as yet another mammoth blizzard tore across the northeastern United States, millions of adults and children celebrated their office and school closures by turning into couch potatoes and watching their television sets.

On several NBC television stations, they caught numerous programs covering athletic competitions in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But on C-SPAN and several 24 hour news stations, they observed a day long competition of a different kind.

Yes, Thursday was the day of the Health Care Summit in Washington, DC! For almost seven hours, television viewers enjoyed live coverage of Democrats and Republicans squaring off over policy issues. They thrilled to the sight of House Republican Whip Eric Cantor lifting a hefty 2,400 page printout of the Democratic health care bill to the table. And they gasped at such verbal smack-downs as the one hurled by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at Republican Senator Lamar Alexander: “You’re entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts!”

Was it an enlightening day? Perhaps so, and yet perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation fudged a few key facts. Sergeant Joe Friday, who always requested “just the facts, ma’am,” might have been very disappointed.

Just the Facts

Let’s begin with the Republican claim that the Obama health care proposal would result in a government takeover of the health care system. Their claim regrettably ignores the fact that our government is already on track to pay for over 50% of all health services by 2012. Thus, economically speaking, our government has already effectively taken over the system. No single private payor comes close to matching our government’s payor share, and for certain medical programs that cater to the elderly, the poor, and the disabled, our government’s share far exceeds 50%.

Let’s now address the Democratic claim that the Republican Party simply will not support any government initiative to ensure universal access to health care. Their claim ignores the fact that President Obama’s own proposal is essentially a national version of Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s universal health care plan for Massachusetts. Our Bay State can thank former Governor Romney for its universal mandate to purchase insurance, its penalties for noncompliance, and its prohibitions against coverage discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

Finally, let’s examine the claim by both parties that “something new must be done” to provide health care access to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. This claim again ignores the fact that our federal government already manages a network of over 1,200 community based centers that provide primary care and other health services to all Americans, regardless of their ability to pay for care. They’re called Federally Qualified Health Centers, and they can be found by simply typing addresses into the Find Health Centers search engine on a government web page.

Politics and Resources

Why aren’t our politicians emphasizing these facts? Why aren’t they discussing sensible modifications to health care systems and resources that already exist? Well, one reason might be the nature of politics itself. Democrats may not be eager to praise President Bush and Governor Romney for developing effective programs to enhance access to care. Likewise, Republicans may not be eager to praise their own colleagues for implementing socialistic approaches to health care reform.

Another reason might be a matter of limited resources. If tens of millions of uninsured Americans learn that FQHCs and other public programs provide free medical care, they might overrun the very programs that exist to serve them. Free temporary health clinics have recently drawn thousands of patients in cities as large as Los Angeles; awareness of such permanent clinics might well provoke overwhelming, and unmanageable, demand.

Nevertheless, one might have hoped that Thursday’s televised summit might have addressed these key points. Instead 2,400 page printouts and verbal sparring matches dominated the day.

What’s Next?

So what’s next on our political agenda? Well, the House of Representatives is reportedly planning to pass the Senate’s preliminary health bill, and then the two chambers of Congress will convene with President Obama to pass additional revisions. To avoid a Republican filibuster of those revisions, the Democrats are reportedly planning to use a parliamentary maneuver called budget reconciliation to approve them.

Budget reconciliation permits such revisions to be approved by 51 Senators, instead of by 60 Senators. Although the 41 (out of 100) Senate Republicans claim that budget reconciliation maneuvers are inappropriate for health legislation, they were in fact utilized to pass elements of our COBRA system, which permits former employees to purchase health insurance from their previous employers shortly after leaving their jobs.

Will we ever manage to provide universal health care access to all Americans? Should government even attempt to do so? If the Democrats have their way, universal coverage may become a reality in the relatively near future …

… though, thankfully, they have no future plans to entertain us with additional televised Health Care Summits. So we can safely turn our attention back to televised sports … such as baseball’s spring training games!