The Right Prescription

Does Obama Care?

He tells seniors, take a pain pill and don't bother to call in the morning. But is that the bureaucrat speaking, or the man?

By 6.29.09

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At a town hall meeting in the White House last week, a woman told President Obama about her 105-year-old mother Hazel Homer who had a pacemaker implanted five years ago after first being denied the procedure because she was "too old." When the heart specialist was shown how vibrant and active this Centenarian was, that decision was reversed, and the woman is still alive today because she received her pacemaker, something that never would have happened under the kind of government-run healthcare President Obama envisions for America. 

The daughter had a very simple question for the president: Under whatever new healthcare system he and the Congress might devise, will there be room in it for the kinds of medical decisions that saved her mother's life -- idiosyncratic decisions based on a person's "spirit" and vitality rather than decisions made by rote and formula, which in this case would have determined her mother was "too old" to treat?

Sensing a trap that would put him in a political bind, the president tap-danced around for a few minutes and then blurted out something about sometimes people will just have to forego a medical procedure and take a pain pill instead -- all for the "greater good," one presumes.

You can imagine the fun talk radio had with that one. But I have watched the video, and I have watched President Obama, and frankly I do not believe had he been in the room when that woman's mother's case was decided that he would have objected. In other words, had the president -- the man, not the politician, not the bureaucrat -- been placed in the role that a doctor should be in -- which is precisely to act as a man, not a bureaucrat, and make these kinds of idiosyncratic decisions if the situation demands it -- he too would probably have thrown all the rules of thumb, rote procedures and comparative cost effectiveness criteria out the window and given her the pacemaker.

But that is the problem with bureaucratic medicine, that's what happens when the hospital morphs into the DMV, which is precisely what the president is trying to foist on the American public in the name of cost control and equal access to equal care for all. Once the government takes over medicine and hands it over to the bureaucrats to run, there is no humanity, only bureaucrats. There is no room for "gut decisions" based on experience and informed intuition, no latitude for evaluations that cannot be fit neatly into a formula or an algorithm and justified by checking off boxes on a form. When bureaucrats practice medicine, they are no more compassionate than an IRS agent or a DMV drone. 

The human notions of spirit and vitality are the very antithesis of bureaucratic thinking. For the bureaucrat there are only statistical aggregates, speculative averages and abstract projections. And, oh yes, there are budgets, which means one size must fit all. And ultimately, that means there will be rationing, delay, denial and deterioration of care. 

There is a segment of voters that so dislikes Barack Obama they fight every political battle with him on personal terms, as if he -- the man -- is the issue rather than the policies he promotes. These voters will constantly be frustrated in their inability to carry the day against him, and they will lose the fight against government-run healthcare unless they change strategies. 

There simply are not enough Obama haters to defeat his policies. In order to protect American citizens against such crazy policies as government-run, bureaucratic medicine, it will be necessary to raise the level of discourse, not out of a fastidious sense of fair play, but out of strategic necessity. In order to defeat Obama's crazy policies, the battle must be elevated above the likable, popular man. That means it is necessary to inform and convince people that while Obama the man might be a great and likable guy, his ideas and policies are misguided, ill conceived and dangerous, especially for older people. 

As the 105-year-old mother of the president's questioner demonstrates, it's not venal politicians who do the most harm but politicians of good intentions, good men who have too many bad ideas and too much power to force them on everyone else who put us all in jeopardy. Good men with good intentions possessing too much power and too little knowledge about the way the world works, that is how "policy" becomes just another word for "atrocity." That is how government-run healthcare could kill grandma. That is why Americans of good sense and good will demand to Opt Out of ObamaCare.

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About the Author
Lawrence A. Hunter is president of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity.