Dim Democrats and the “choice” Wyden plan.
Are all Democrats stupid or do you just have to be stupid to be a Democrat? I haven’t figured that out yet.
The latest manifestation of the understanding-challenged comes with a New York Times op-ed last week by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden entitled: “Health Reform’s Missing Ingredient.” The missing ingredient, Wyden declares, is “choice.”
“My guiding principle is, and always has been that consumers do better when there is a choice and competition,” said the Senator, quoting no less an authority than President Barack Obama. Then quoting himself, he went on: “Empowering Americans to choose from a broad selection of health plans would turn the tables. Those insurers that charged affordable rates and provided good coverage would attract more customers.”
Well, isn’t that something? Newt Gingrich and the Republicans have been saying that for a decade, but let’s take up the challenge. Why not free up the insurance market from burdensome state and federal regulations and let the companies sell whatever kinds of plan they want. Consumers could make their own choices and healthcare would be no more a “crisis” than cars or television sets.
It isn’t so hard to imagine. Right here in New York I picked up a flyer in the supermarket the other day that offered the following health insurance policy:
• $5,000 per accident.
• $60,000 lifetime coverage for any of the following illness: cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, blood and lymphoid, digestive, endocrine, musculoskelatal, nervous, skin, eyes, ears and nose diseases, etc,.
• 70 percent coverage, $100 deductible.
Not bad, eh? The cost — $37.95 a month or $455 a year. The only catch is you have to buy it for your dog. If you’re a human being, you have to pay at least $5,000 a year to buy basic protection.
Why? Because, like almost every other state, New York has regulated insurance to death. When you buy health insurance in New York, you can’t just buy a simple policy. You have to accept coverage for mental health, psychiatry, psychologists, chiropractors, alcoholism, drug abuse, midwives, podiatrists, infertility clinics, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers and on and on. Other states mandate everything from massage therapists to acupuncturists to hair transplants. According to the Council on Affordable Health Insurance, there are close to 2,000 state mandates, which raise the price of insurance anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. And it’s not consumers who are demanding this kind of coverage. It’s the providers who lobby the legislatures to be included so they can get paid.
The result is insurance everywhere is overpriced. But that’s just the beginning. As I outlined at length last week, the reason we have a “healthcare crisis” is precisely because so many people have managed to get out from under these state mandates while others remain stuck in them.
A long time ago, the Fortune 500 and their labor unions learned they could circumvent state regulations by setting up “self-insurance” pools for employees. Instead of buying insurance from insurance companies, the companies form their own pools and self-insure. All this is protected by the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which trumps state regulation. (States were granted regulation of the insurance industry by the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, which has stifled competition and turned each state into a cartelized fiefdom.) Then, thanks to the IRS, these benefit plans are also tax-free. As a result, corporations and their employees loaded up on first-dollar, no-deductible coverage. Benefits were even extended to retirees so that — as we just learned recently — every Cadillac comes loaded with $3,000 in healthcare costs.
It was a great deal for those it benefited. In Patient Power, the best book I’ve ever read on the subject, John Goodman and Robert Musgrave speculated that it is precisely these “gold-plated” benefit plans that have driven up the costs of medical care, since the system is flooded with people spending other people’s money.
The downside falls on those who are left out. If you aren’t employed in a big company or the government, or if you’re self-employed or work for a start-up or a company like Wal-Mart that’s skimping every penny, or if you lose your job with the big company, then you’re out of luck. Instead, you have to look for insurance in “the market,” which consists of people like yourself plus those who are too sick to work or have been kicked out of their ERISA plans for running up too many bills. (ERISA plans are allowed to do this because they’re not “insurance” but only “benefits.”) Meanwhile, your state insurance commission, in classic stat-sponsored-monopoly fashion, has kept competitors out of the market at the behest of other competitors so your choices are limited. All you can buy is those Christmas-tree-laden mandated policies approved by the state legislation. You’ll probably pay $5,000-10,000 a year for coverage that is costing an ERISA employee less than $1,000.
The “health insurance crisis,” then, only exists for people outside ERISA’s charmed circle. (Call up the ERISA Industry Committee — 202-789-1400 — if you don’t believe any of this.) It’s a phenomenon called “rent-seeking” where people use the government to institutionalize advantages at the expense of everybody else.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online