Recklessness and health care reform

Published 4:27 pm Saturday, September 19, 2009

Despite polls that show America sharply divided — at best — over the issue, President Obama and congressional Democrats continue their headlong pursuit of comprehensive health care reform designed to federalize the nation’s medical services. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-4th) made a special visit to Western Tidewater on Friday to try to shed some light on the situation, but his party may be powerless to stop the juggernaut.

There’s no denying the problems inherent in the American health care system today. Insurance premiums are high and rising at a rate far greater than that of inflation. Doctors, ever afraid of malpractice lawsuits, prescribe a slew of often-unnecessary and expensive tests to cover themselves in the event they do get sued. The cost of prescription drugs — even for those with insurance — is a major problem, especially for the elderly. The loss of a job often means the loss of necessary health insurance. And there is a small segment of the American citizenry — about 8 million actual citizens, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — that truly cannot afford health insurance and for whom Medicaid and other government programs are not available.

But is the best answer to these problems the wholesale demolition of the health care industry that America has come to know? Can government — which failed to foresee or adequately respond to the collapse of the banking industry, which apparently misinterpreted “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which failed to foresee or intercede in the 9/11 terrorist attacks — be put in charge of the health care of more than 300 million Americans? Can we trust the same government that designed the tax code to make quick and enlightened decisions about the medical procedures necessary to keep us alive and healthy?

These are all important questions, and they are questions that are being ignored by those who are pressing for a quick and comprehensive fix for the health care situation. As Forbes put it on Friday, Obama and the Democrats are hoping to complete a “Hail Mary” pass on health care, when they should be looking to make first downs, instead.

There are plenty of health care issues on which Americans of all political stripes can agree: health insurance portability, more funding for medical research, coverage of pre-existing conditions and even government-funded insurance for those citizens who truly cannot afford to buy their own, among others. One big issue that most Americans would support — legal reform that would offer doctors more protection from spurious lawsuits — is held hostage by the trial lawyers’ lobby, which wields great power on Capitol Hill, if not in the American heartland.

It would be far more sensible to pass those reforms first and see what effect they might have — to try for a few first downs — than to throw the ball up in the air and pray for a touchdown in the face of the overwhelming odds against it.

Americans are calling on their leaders to stop and take a breath before plowing forward with this massive reform. The nation — strapped with debt like never before — cannot afford a reckless approach to legislation on such an important issue.