SCHIP: The Mad Hatter Matter

Posted: Oct 11, 2007 12:01 PM
SCHIP: The Mad Hatter Matter

In “Alice in Wonderland,” during the tea party, the Mad Hatter sat down to a beautiful white linen tablecloth. He proceeded to make a mess in front of himself, but instead of cleaning up, he just moved to another spot and made another mess. And so on down the table.

The other day, I realized that parable was applicable to the government-run State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

If Lewis Carroll were writing today, he might include members of Congress along with the fantastically unusual beings on the other end of the looking glass. Carroll’s narratives seem to peg the essence of big government. His characters certainly embody government run amok. They often worked mindlessly, creating messes that others had to clean up.

Congress’s free-spending majority is nudging the nation toward government-run universal health care. Its SCHIP expansion is a case in point.

Government has proven itself an inferior provider of health care coverage. Medicaid’s budget busting waste and poor quality of care are the prime examples. Still, liberals in Congress believe the best way to address the waste and inadequate care provided to many Americans of low income is to make the program a middle-class entitlement.

Most conservatives support helping the children of low-income families get health care. And because they support helping them, they opposed the current SCHIP bill that Congress passed and that President Bush vetoed.

This bill was not about helping children of low-income families. It was about growing state-controlled single-payer health care coverage and political gamesmanship. Such coverage will damage the health care system all children need.

Medicaid already provides free health care for children living in poverty. Most of those children are in families making less than $20,000 a year.

SCHIP applies to families making too much to qualify for Medicaid. Presently, most of the program’s recipients are in families making between $20,000 and $40,000 a year.

But, many recipients under the bill passed by Congress would be children in families making $60,000 or more.

That’s not a program to assist those of low income. That’s the expansion of middle-class reliance on government-controlled health care. It creates a new government entitlement.

Our nation’s concern for the poor should not be exploited for the purpose of government expansion.

Creating a new entitlement would hurt our economy, waste resources, reduce quality care, and deprive children of the health care they need. The question here is: Should the federal government provide free health care to middle-class families, transferring millions of children, now covered by private insurance, to a government plan funded by taxpayers? The answer is no.

The challenge is to change health care. The system is enormously expensive, and needs improvement. We need lower cost, more efficiency, and better options. The disagreement is on how to change it.

There are two approaches.

The private approach says we should move away from employer-provided health care to a system where individuals control their health care choices, carry their coverage with them if they change jobs or work at home, and that gives them the flexibility to choose the best provider for their needs.

This would reduce the cost of health care, so that more people of low income could afford coverage. Then, fewer people need SCHIP, and SCHIP could do more yet cost less.

The big-government approach would abolish private insurance. This approach would have citizens pay more taxes to the government, which then becomes the sole source of income for health care providers. The government would then have all the leverage needed to tell those working in health care what to do and how to do it.

Government-run systems waste countless of billions of dollars and take decisions away from patients and doctors, putting them in the hands of government bureaucrats. Medical careers then pay less and attract less-talented people. Lack of incentives hurt research and development of new medicines and techniques. And, lack of accountability means lower quality of care and fewer choices for patients. The whole system suffers.

The bill President Bush vetoed was a step in that direction. With SCHIP expansion into the middle class, government’s role increases. A critical mass of middle-class voters, dependent upon SCHIP for care, would demand broader coverage for more people. Within a generation, enough voters would be on it that popular support would be there for government-run health care. That’s the political game plan.

This could happen because the free health care comes right away. It takes more time to exhaust private resources, drive talented people from the health care field, and build an established bureaucratic mindset. Aside from immediate delays, the quality of care might be acceptable at first. But, after the system is federalized and becomes run down, it may be too late to reverse. Think Canada and Great Britain.

In the meantime, the ones who suffer the most are children of low-income families.

The thought of those children lacking good care is unacceptable. The original SCHIP was designed to help them. It should not be transformed into a middle-class entitlement that would eventually degrade our entire health care system. It must remain focused on helping children of low-income working families.

The last bill Congress passed failed to keep that focus. Congress must now pass a bill that does. The children are waiting … while the Mad Hatters of big government just keep moving.

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