Thursday, November 27, 2003

Medicare Turkeys

Some people may really believe that the private sector does everything best. Some people may still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy (except for Charlie Norwood (R-GA) who accused OSHA of killing the Tooth Fairy when it issued the bloodborne pathogens standard). Others, however, look at the facts.

This belief allegedly applies to the battle between Medicare, the government program, and private sector competition being promoted in the recently bludgeoned through passed Medicare/Prescription Drug bill. As Senator Bill Frist said:"We just think that competition through the private sector, through bulk purchasing and negotiation, is a more effective means to hold down prices."

But, according to a column by Jeff Madrick in the NY Times:
The problem is that 30 years of comparisons between Medicare and private health insurance provide no evidence for Senator Frist's assertion. To the contrary, the best analyses to date suggest that Medicare may will hold down health care costs better than private industry does.
Not only that, but the private sector is much less likely to cover the elderly who are prone to poor health. And, of course, the elderly, being old, are often prone to poor health.
As a result, despite competition and government subsidies, many of the poor or less healthy elderly would probably be left with plans that provide inadequate care.
Which is why this country needs a government health care program -- at very least for the elderly (which I someday in the waaaaaaay distant future, plan to be), if not for everyone.
If Congress and the president keep going in this direction, it will undermine the philosophy of protection and inclusiveness that guided the passage of Medicare in the first place, and so much of the rest of America's social legislation. Is this a decision Americans understand they are making? They are probably taking for granted that Congress has done the research. It hasn't.
Happy Turkey Day.