Keeping Us in Stitches

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Sep 03, 2009 4:04 PM
Keeping Us in Stitches

Old jokes tend to hang around because they contain a large measure of truth. For example, everyone knows the punch line to “How can you tell that a politician is lying?” Of course, it’s “because his lips are moving.”

There have been plenty of moving lips across the country this summer, as politicians in red states (Texas), blue states (New York) and violet states (Iowa, New Hampshire) held town hall meetings and heard from angry voters.

Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, managed to squeeze one two-hour meeting into his busy summer schedule, and my, were his lips ever moving. He spent about an hour talking, devoting the other hour or so to audience questions.

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As the Falls Church News-Press, basically a transcript service for Democratic party talking points, reported, “Twelve major ‘myths’ circulated by opponents of health care reform were systematically dispelled, and a strong case for the ‘public option’ made, by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran and former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean in front of over 2,500 rowdy citizens and national TV cameras at a town hall meeting in Herndon Tuesday night.”

Let’s not take that reporter’s word for it. Let’s look at some of the specific points the proponents made.

“No one will lose their current health coverage,” Moran said several times. “That means, regardless of what health insurance plan you’re in, you will stay in that plan.” But that’s not true. The Lewin Group, a respected consulting firm, ran the numbers, and found that if the bill became law, “48 percent of privately insured Americans would transition out of private insurance.” That means about 83 million of the 172 million people who currently have private insurance would lose it.

That only makes sense. If the government is offering to provide insurance (the “public option”) many employers are obviously going to decide to stop paying for the coverage they provide now and allow Uncle Sam to pick up the tab. And, as Lewin also found, “56 percent of Americans with employer-based coverage would lose their current insurance.” That’s 88 million people (out of an estimated 158 million with private coverage now) who would have no choice: They’d lose their current plan.

The News-Press reporter paraphrased what Dean and Moran had to say about cost savings. The proposed public option, “would bring costs down considerably, as private health care providers would have to compete with the more efficient operation of a public option that would, among other things, spend less on administrative overhead,” the newspaper wrote.

Well. If there’s one thing the government is famous for, it’s efficiency.

Last year, a friend from the Labor Department explained the process she needed to go through if she wanted, say, 100 copies of a memo to take to a conference. There’s a form to fill out. It’s made of carbon paper. Remember carbon paper? The date on the bottom says the form was last revised in February 1978. Carter-era efficiency comes to health care.

“Under this reform, no one could be denied coverage, and the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients, among many other things, would go down,” the News-Press added, summing up what Dean and Moran told the audience.

This is difficult to believe. To summarize: the government would provide more insurance to more people, and prices would go down. The government would promise to provide excellent coverage to everyone (nobody could be turned down for a preexisting condition) and prices would go down. It makes no economic sense.

As the News-Press also wrote, “The high cost of administrative overhead, Moran noted, is currently due largely to the efforts of for-profit insurance companies to decide who and what they will cover, and who and what they won’t.”

Not quite. The reality is that the government doesn’t compete; it compels.

Governments already set the regulations private insurance companies must work within. Governments already provide lists of services insurance companies must provide, and these services vary from state to state. Once there’s a “public option,” the federal government will set demands on private companies even as it undercuts their prices, running them out of business within a year or two.

Next week, lawmakers return to Washington after spending a summer being told, in no uncertain terms, that Americans don’t want government-run health care. We’ll soon find out if they thought we were joking.

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Correction: Last week I wrote that “The Road Not Taken” was written by Robert Burns, when it was written by Robert Frost. As one sharp reader pointed out, I should “bring Bobby back by tying him to Carter [because Burns wrote] ‘Malaise of the Last Minstrel’.” That’s a good idea, and I wish I’d thought of it.