Is There a Doctor in the White House?

Robert Knight
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Posted: Jul 27, 2009 10:37 AM

Journalists often run the risk of knowing a little about everything, but not enough to make sense. Presidents apparently can suffer from the same malady.

In his July 22 press conference, Dr. Obama put on his stethoscope and white coat and assessed the motives of the nation’s doctors. Basically, he accused physicians of opting for unnecessary procedures to make more money.

“Right now, doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule that's out there. ... The doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, 'You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid's tonsils out.'

“Now, that may be the right thing to do, but I'd rather have that doctor making those decisions just based on whether you really need your kid's tonsils out or whether it might make more sense just to change; maybe they have allergies. Maybe they have something else that would make a difference.”

Oh, those greedy docs. But this is nonsense. These days, doctors don’t like to take out tonsils. Years ago, they’d operate at the first sign of a sore throat – not to make big bucks but because tonsils were seen as unnecessary appendages highly susceptible to infection. Today, doctors understand that tonsils and adenoids fight and contain infection. Besides, in an age of specialists, the pediatrician or general practitioner typically refer the patient to a pediatric surgeon.

More disturbing is the President’s clear implication that government-run health care could help prevent such abuses, or at least do a better job than private health care. You have to ask, “What kind of oversight does he have in mind? A bureaucrat in every doctor’s office, second-guessing every diagnosis, micromanaging every prescription, every treatment?”

In describing the red tape and problems plaguing the current system, Obama actually tries to sell us on the idea that a government-run system would be more efficient.

Beleaguered taxpayers already have ample experience with government “efficiency,” from the post office to the Pentagon. Government creates waste, fraud, tremendous overhead and red tape by its nature. Any cost savings from crackdowns could not begin to pay for the trillions that will be spent. As Michelle Malkin notes on her blog, the Obama plan creates 31 new federal programs and agencies just to administer the system. All are sure to grow like kudzu.

A quick look at an existing government health care program might be in order, courtesy of the Washington Post’s expose´ of conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, described as “the crown jewel of military medicine.” In their 2007 article “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility,” Dana Priest and Anne Hull exposed the grim failure of government-run medicine. The article begins with a look at the hospital’s out-patient facility:

“Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.”

In his July 22 press conference, Obama complained about inefficient private health care, citing mishandled records that force patients to undergo the same test as many as four times. But here’s an anecdote from government-run Walter Reed:

“Vera Heron spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. ‘It just absolutely took forever to get anything done,’ Heron said. ‘They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it.’

“The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.”

Or how about the July 2008 Inspector General’s report for the Veterans Administration that says the Austin, Texas-based Veterans’ Affairs Brain Imaging and Recovery Laboratory (BIRL) “had spent over $2 million without treating anyone,” as Washington Times columnist Grace Vuoto reports. The IG’s revelations confirm some of the charges raised by ousted BIRL Director Dr. Robert Van Boven, who was dismissed in February 2008 after alleging that the facility had wasted millions.

As for other government-administered programs, even Obama admits that Medicaid and Medicare are riddled by waste, fraud and abuse. So he wants to expand the federal system to fix this?

Perhaps it’s time for President Obama to take off the stethoscope and instead don an outfit more befitting a mad scientist. After all, the global warming, “cap-and-trade” bill will soon be coming up.