Dr. Ganske’s Prescription for Government-Run Health Care

This past September, President Clinton told a union audience he was proud of his 1994 attempt to put a government bureaucrat between every American and their doctor. He then told the audience how he intends to implement his failed health care take-over one piece at a time: “Maybe we can do it . . . a step at a time, until eventually we finish this.”

The next few “steps” down the road to ClintonCare include one that is being touted by Iowa Republican Rep. Greg Ganske in a bill he calls the “Patient Right to Know Act.” According to lore, certain managed care companies contractually prohibit doctors from telling patients about expensive treatment options. Dr. Ganske (a plastic surgeon) would outlaw these so-called “gag clauses.” That is, he would if he could find one.

When the General Accounting Office (GAO) went looking for “gag clauses,” it scoured nearly 1,200 managed care contracts from across the country. The results? The GAO found exactly zero “gag clauses.” Not a single one. If ever there were any “gag clauses” out there, the market already got rid of them.

“So what’s the harm in making it official?” you might ask. Plenty. One study estimates the federal government would have to hire up to 7,000 new bureaucrats to implement the Ganske bill. That is an awful lot of new hires to devote to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Once in place, and without much to do, these bureaucrats would do what all bureaucrats do: find new ways to control your behavior. And the cost of complying with the regulations they issue would be passed on to consumers through higher premiums. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that every one percent increase in premiums causes more than 200,000 Americans to lose coverage.

When we made this case during a congressional hearing last month, Dr. Ganske protested his bill would not lead to government-run health care. Yet for some reason, supporters of government-run health care such as Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Pete Stark (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT; Congress’ only avowed socialist) are lining up to support his bill. They know it will be easier to put a bureaucrat between every American and their doctor once this Trojan horse is inside the gates.

Already we can see how they plan to build on the ground laid by Dr. Ganske. A markup of the Ganske bill scheduled for early November was postponed at the insistence of members who, according to one report, “wanted to work on the Ganske measure because it is too narrow.” The additional measures they want to work on include mandates that require consumers to buy dental, chiropractic, and other types of coverage, whether consumers want them or not.

Instead of these one-size-fits-all mandates, Congress should be working on solutions that put consumers, rather than the government, in control of their health care decisions.

For example, the federal tax code traps millions of Americans in the one or two health plans offered by their employer by making it twice as expensive for them to purchase their own coverage. This prevents them from walking away if an employer’s health plan doesn’t meet their needs. As a result, consumers cannot discipline substandard health coverage providers because government has robbed them of their ability to choose.

Giving individuals the same tax treatment as employers would enable individuals to discipline health plans and eliminate the problems that President Clinton and others are using to argue for a government take-over of the health care system.

The market already weeded out “gag clauses.” It will eliminate many more abuses once consumers are given the choice to walk away from their employers’ health plans.

The “Patient Right to Know Act” does not empower consumers. It does empower government. It would create a new federal bureaucracy, restrict consumer choice and raise consumers’ health premiums.

By making our health care troubles worse, the Ganske bill plays into the hands of President Clinton and others who still want to impose government-run health care on all Americans. It is a Trojan horse for ClintonCare.

That’s a high price to pay just to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.