George Will

DeMint was one of 25 doughty House Republicans who, resisting intense White House pressure, voted against the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, partly because of its cost. And this was before the administration's ``$130 billion `oops!'" -- the projection of a 10-year cost that much higher than previously anticipated.

But DeMint says the Medicare bill's provision for individual health savings accounts is ``the grain of sand in the oyster,'' from which a pearl of progress may emerge. Containing costs is a prerequisite for progress -- in broadened access to care and in research that produces better medical technologies.

The key to cost containment is turning patients into cost-conscious health care shoppers, with a personal financial incentive to reduce the ``optional'' medical problems arising from known risky behavior (imprudent eating, drinking, smoking and driving, inadequate exercise, unsafe sex). Moving away from a third-party payer system means giving individuals ownership of personal health care resources -- those health savings accounts -- which they will have an incentive to husband.

Why has the cost of laser eye surgery fallen 22 percent in four years? For the same reason the cost of cosmetic surgery has been rising slower than the inflation rate. These elective procedures are generally paid for by individuals, from their own resources.

DeMint is stressing principles that candidate George W. Bush enunciated in 2000, when he contrasted ``two visions of government: a government that encourages ownership and opportunity and responsibility or a government that takes your money and makes your choices.'' DeMint's empowerment agenda includes personal ownership of accounts investing a portion of Social Security taxes, and ownership of tax-preferred education savings accounts.

His agenda continues a tradition of American governance that extends back to the 1913 law making mortgage interest payments tax deductible, thereby democratizing the accumulation of wealth through home ownership. And back beyond that to 1862, to the Homestead Act, which distributed the nation's primary wealth at the time -- land.

If DeMint wins the June 8 primary, his November prospects will glitter: not since 1962 has South Carolina elected a Democratic senator other than Hollings. DeMint has a House member's opinion of the Senate, which he says is ``where ideas go to die.'' Not if he gets there.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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