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Nichols: Congress current health plan wont cut costs
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As I recovered from a knee replacement surgery in the beautiful north tower of our Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and later in a week in a rehabilitation facility and then my home, I had lots of time to think about the health care insurance proposal from President Barack Obama now being considered by the House of Representatives. I realize we also need to see the version to be considered by the Senate that should appear soon.

I agree that costs of health care and drugs need to be brought under control in a fair way that reduces cost but keeps incentive for the pharmaceuticals to continue to find new drugs and equipment to treat so many ailments that we face today. But I do not think the proposal being considered by the House is the best or only way to reduce costs or extend coverage.

First of all, consider the laws of supply and demand. Congressional laws cannot change the facts of life in the medical community by ignoring supply-demand conditions.

Presently we may have as many as 45 million Americans without any medical insurance. If they are covered by some type of medical insurance, either public or private, where will these people go for medical treatment? Will they flood doctor’s offices and hospitals if these are not adequately increased to deal with the new patients?

I believe most Americans who are insured do approve the medical insurance situation that we now have. And so do I.

I have Social Security and my teachers retirement income, plus Medicare as my primary medical insurance and Blue Cross as secondary insurance. I have to co-pay for all my drugs, and medical services by my doctors and hospital and other medical treatment facilities. It works well for me so far. I hope this surgery on my knee is the last I may require, but you do not know what the future may bring.

I have no dental insurance, so all visits to my dentist are paid out of my pocket. Eye care is partly covered, partly out of pocket.

If the president can propose a plan that increases the supply of doctors and medical facilities at the same rate as insurance coverage increases the number of patients, then my objection no longer applies. But supply and demand need to be considered at the center of any health insurance reform.

I have another major criticism of part of the proposed plan being considered by the House. This would establish a government run optional insurance program that patients could select rather than stay with a private insurance company (like my own Blue Cross). The object of this government-run and operated program would to provide competition with the other companies in the field.

I have seen no proof that convinces me that such a plan would actually work to reduce costs by competition. I worry that the opposite might actually prevail. Other government-run programs have a history of red tape and rising costs. Look at the post office, now not a governmental agency any more but an independent company (and it has been losing money badly).

Our government is a mosaic of many different programs, special interests, commercial considerations and interrelated efforts that are all linked together by our government.

Health care reform should proceed simultaneously with Social Security reform. The baby boomers will begin to retire in overwhelming numbers and drain the Social Security trust fund dry. We have been borrowing money from that fund to pay other expenses of the government, and the trust fund is now mainly in the form of IOUs. When the number of baby boomers hit the retirement age, those IOUs will have to be paid. Where will that money come from?

Medicare is rocked by fraud with some doctors and facilities overbilling the government. Millions seem to have been lost through fraud because we do not police the system adequately to catch those who cheat. Medicare too needs to be carefully reformed to make it honest and not corrupt.

Serious economic problems will continue to haunt everything President Obama proposes. I wonder if he sometimes wishes he had not won the election that brought him to a job with so many problems boiling on all burners of the national political system?

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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