Steve Chapman

Republicans as well as Democrats ridiculed the notion that Americans should be denied any test they want at someone else's expense. Said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., "I don't want a government bureaucrat making a decision for the women of America, if they should be allowed to have screening mammograms."

Actually, no one has proposed making it a crime for people to undergo screening. Those patients who think a screening exam is essential, but whose policies don't cover it, may find facilities that offer it free. They would also have the option, however unfamiliar, of paying for it themselves, at an average cost (according to the American Cancer Society) of about $100.

The Senate measure is not about the right to obtain preventive care. It's about the right to make someone else pick up the tab.

By demanding mammogram coverage in private and government plans, the amendment would raise the cost of health insurance for everyone. Which, as you may recall, is exactly the opposite of what "reform" was advertised to do.

Those who think we cannot afford unlimited budgets for health care may take heart from another Senate vote. It repulsed an effort by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to delete more than $400 billion in promised Medicare savings in the coming decade.

Alas, the Senate, by a 100-0 vote, also promised that no Medicare benefit currently provided will ever be canceled. Even the alleged savings (from -- get this -- eliminating waste and inefficiency) are unlikely to be achieved. They are in the bill to create the impression that someone, someday, will be willing to control costs.

Fat chance. Many opponents of the administration's effort warn that it will lead to federally imposed rationing of medical care, cruelly denying Americans the treatments they need. The more plausible outcome is that the government will insist on providing anything and everything until the day we run out of money.

Our leaders know they can't do this forever. So they'll settle for doing it as long as they can.

Steve Chapman

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

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