Steve Chapman

But liberals are not the only people who fantasize that our health care resources are unlimited. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of plotting to set up "death panels" to ration care for seniors. Former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey of New York called the House Democratic health care bill "a vicious assault on elderly people" that will "cut your life short."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has taken the same tack. After the administration proposed modest reductions in the growth of spending on Medicare, he did an impersonation of John Edwards.

"We want to make sure that we are not cutting the Medicare program," Steele said. "Anytime you get a body of individuals that go beyond me and my doctor who are going to make decisions about what kind of health care I get, that's rationing of health care." But as long as someone else has to pay for those decisions, someone other than doctors and patients is going to make decisions about what treatments are worth the cost.

As it happens, Washington is not about to get stingy with seniors. The cost constraints in the health care bills moving through Congress would trim total projected Medicare outlays by only 3 to 5 percent over the next decade. A cut of 5 percent in 2019 spending, however, would leave it 80 percent higher than this year.

Ten years from now, even with such "cuts," seniors will have more and better medical options than today. Yet Republicans act as though everyone over 65 will be herded onto an iceberg and pushed out to sea.

What left and right have in common is the delusion that when it comes to medicine, nothing succeeds like excess. But no health care measure can alter the fact that our resources are not unlimited. We may not want to hear it, but no matter what kind of insurance system you have, sometimes someone has to say "no."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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