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Bill Kennedy: Taking health care to the limit

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: September 24, 2009 10:31 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
According to the Alliance for Health Reform, a non-partisan group, health care costs tripled between 1990 and 2007, and with no changes will account for 25 percent of the nation's economy by the year 2025.

Many people find it easier to spend someone else's money than their own, and that is one of the reasons our national health care costs are rising rapidly.

I experienced this attitude firsthand a while back when looking for some new eyeglasses.

After I selected a modest frame which I favored, my optometrist insisted on showing me some very expensive designer models.

"You have a golden eye care program (courtesy of my wife's status at the time as a state employee) that will pay more than double the amount of the frames you have selected," he said. "The upgrade will not cost you a penny more, so why not go for the limit?"

I elected to stay with my original choice, but couldn't help wondering how many patients would accept the upgrade simply because it was available at no additional cost to them, not because it was a better product or even because they liked it better.

The ease with which the ignorant or unprincipled person will spend other people's money is in my view one of the prime reasons for the runaway health care costs and yet, it is an issue not adequately addressed by President Obama's health care reform.

Instead, the president promises increased benefits to millions of Americans while having us believe the additional costs will somehow be covered by taxing the wealthy or by squeezing inefficiencies out of the current system.

As regards the latter, Mr. President, if you know how to squeeze the inefficiencies out of the current system, why haven't you done so in the first 10 months of your administration?

Regarding increased taxes on the wealthy, is it really fair for the president to demand that the "haves" fund the "have nots"?

Whatever happened to the notion that charity should be self-initiated, not government mandated?

Moreover, let's consider a little history.

In 1988, President Reagan signed into law the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, intended to protect senior citizens from financial ruin by significantly increasing Medicare benefits to some 33 million seniors and disabled.

In one of the more dramatic legislative reversals in modern history, the act was repealed within 17 months in response to a spate of town hall meetings in which hundreds of thousands of affluent Americans protested being charged a surtax to fund the program.

The lesson here is that an idealistic program can be very attractive until we get to the issue of how to fund it.

Indeed, public opinion on health care reform suggests a high percentage desire reforms but do not want to see their taxes raised.

According to a study conducted in 2008 by the Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society, 63.4 percent believed that the United States should enact some form of universal health care.

But, when asked how this care should be funded, only 26.8 percent were willing to have their taxes increased.

Interestingly, in another survey by the same institute conducted in July, 68.2 percent of respondents believed health care is neither a right nor a privilege, and that both government and individuals bear some degree of responsibility.

My personal preference is that any health care reform include some notion of personal accountability.

Rather than accepting "hope we can believe in" from the current administration, I would rather see a program that includes safeguards such as carefully established deductibles and co-pays that will give individuals pause before electing to spend someone else's money.

I have many other points I would like to see in any reform, and I am certain you have some of your own.

Please join Congressman Buck McKeon's health care town hall meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m. at College of the Canyons' main gymnasium, and let's exchange views.

Together we can craft a better program for all - right here, right now!

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or The Signal. "Right Here, Right Now" appears Fridays in The Signal and rotates among local Republican writers.


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