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Before a medical student becomes a doctor, he or she must take the Hippocratic Oath, a medical code of ethics that begins, "First, do no harm." In contrast, members of presidential commissions take no such oaths, as evidenced by the "Consumer Bill of Rights" unveiled recently by President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.
In 1994, the American public rejected President Clinton’s plan to put a government bureaucrat between every American and their doctor. "What I tried to do before won’t work," the president told a union audience this September. "Maybe we can do it . . . a step at a time until eventually we finish this." Clinton acknowledged he appointed his health care commission to design the next few "steps" down the road to government-run health care.
As the president announced at a recent White House ceremony, those steps will be requirements that consumers buy over a dozen types of government-prescribed health coverage. The President and his commission believe so strongly you have a "right" to these types of coverage that you should be forced to buy them, whether you want to or not.
In the real world, these are called "mandates," and they played a starring role in the original Clinton health plan, which would have required all Americans to buy a one-size-fits-all standard benefits package. Today, there are nearly 1,000 state laws, or mandates, that require consumers to buy coverage for everything from hair transplants (Minnesota) to massage therapists (Florida). Not only do these mandates restrict consumer choice, they are also expensive. One study found the 12 most common mandates increase the cost of health coverage by 30 percent.
Most of us understand that more Americans could afford health insurance if they were allowed to choose only the benefits they want. Unfortunately, most of us were not on the president’s health care commission.
The commission’s proposals — which Clinton now wants to enact into law — would require consumers to buy health benefits that could increase their premiums by as much as three percent. This may seem like a pittance to the commissioners, but it is a big deal to the 600,000 Americans who will no longer be able to afford health coverage.
What did the commission have to say to these 600,000 Americans? One commissioner complained, "To have any of these ‘rights’ meet the test of not increasing the number of uninsured would tie our hands and not allow us to do anything." In other words, they should at least be allowed to make health coverage unaffordable for some people. So much for Hippocrates.
By embracing new government mandates, the president ignores the fact that most of the problems in our health care system are due to government restrictions of consumer choice that are already in place. Most Americans cannot leave their employer’s health plans because the federal government has made it twice as expensive for them to buy coverage on their own. This government-created employer-based system eliminates the incentive for consumers to keep costs down themselves. After all, if someone else is picking up the tab, why bother? Thus, costs continue to increase as consumers demand more and more care.
Just as bad, this system also grants employer-based health plans a captive clientele. Health plans can get away with denying necessary care because they don’t have to be afraid of losing customers. Individual consumers cannot walk away from their employer’s health plan, and therefore have no hope of disciplining the plan when it makes harmful decisions. This is exactly the consumer frustration the president and his commission hope to tap with their cruel hoax of even more restrictive mandates.
If Congress really wants to discipline health plans that are unresponsive to consumers, it will reject any further steps toward government-run health care and give us the ability to walk away from employer-based health plans without being hit by a whopping tax penalty. That will force health plans to compete to meet the needs of individual consumers, not employers.
President Clinton says he wants to promote health care quality and curb abuses with just a little more federal regulation. Yet 270 million Americans can keep a much better eye on the health insurance industry than the few thousand bureaucrats that President Clinton’s approach would require.