Mark Hillman

America's health care system certainly has its share of problems — of which most emanate from politicians' tinkering, tempting frustrated consumers with promises of better benefits at someone else's expense.

So the prospect of President Obama and Congress remaking American health care in their own image should scare the pants off anyone who looks not merely at the existing problems but at government's abysmal record as a problem-solver.

Since last November, Obama and Congress have operated in crisis mode. They hastily passed a stimulus bill that still hasn't stimulated — only to be subsequently embarrassed by provisions that no one, except select staffers and lobbyists, had actually read.

The President incessantly beats the drum for grandiose new programs in health care, "clean energy," and education, touting them as fundamental steps in a regimen of economic recovery and fiscal responsibility.

This, of course, is hogwash.

Even the Washington Post observed that "these pursuits have little to do with the economic crisis, and they are not the key to economic recovery."

Before overhauling what remains of a voluntary, market-based system of private-sector health care delivery, the President and Congress should focus instead on Medicare, the $462 billion-a-year boondoggle that is on course to devour the federal budget and ruin the U.S. economy.

President Obama argues that health care change is necessary because 46 million people don't have insurance. Setting aside the questionable validity of that statistic, compare it instead to the 45 million people currently enrolled in Medicare.

Today, Medicare consumes 13 percent of the federal budget and 3.2 percent of the national economy. (Medicare and SCHIP push total federal government health care spending to more than one-fifth of all federal outlays — more than spending on national defense.)

According to the annual Trustees' report, in 2008 the Medicare Trust Fund began paying out more in benefits than it was collecting in payroll taxes and interest. By 2017, the fund will be completely exhausted and staring at a $37.6 trillion — with a "T" — deficit over the next 75 years.

Of all the reckless, irresponsible promises made by Washington politicians and charged against our children and grandchildren's future, Medicare is the largest and most costly. In 20 years, its costs will surpass Social Security and are forecast to more than triple unless politicians muster the courage control spending or allow private competition to control costs.

Mark Hillman

Mark Hillman is a Colorado native, a farmer, "recovering journalist" and a former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate.