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Uniquely American? Or Uniquely Bad?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So there I was listening to one of the docs who
attended the White House photo-op to show their support for the President’s
health care reform efforts.  Full
disclosure - I wasn’t invited.  I
was half paying attention to the radio until I heard her proclaim proudly that
the plan put forth was “uniquely American”.

I’ve heard that before.  In fact, I’ve heard it a lot
recently.  What does that mean?

Sure, we have a system right now that’s unique.  It’s uniquely bad.  It’s uniquely expensive.  It’s uniquely exclusionary.  When did any of those things become
admirable?  When did we decide to
brag about them?  Why are we so
eager to be different?

Look, I understand what the President is trying to do.  He’s afraid that someone will look at
what he’s trying to accomplish and scream, “Socialism!”  Or even worse, “Foreigner!”  But this approach baffles me.  Are we so isolated and xenophobic at this point that we are
unwilling to accept any ideas at all unless they originated within the confines
of the United States? 

I ask because setting up a better health care system is
something that nearly every other comparable country has figured out.  Not always in the same
way
, and not always with the same amount of government involvement, but they are all cheaper
than ours
, they are all universal,
and they are all similar if not better in
quality
.

Think about that as you watch Congress and the President
crow over the passing of the Senate
Finance Committee
bill next week. 
I grant you that getting a health care reform bill like this bill out of
committee is a first in American politics.  I just don’t think it’s necessarily something to brag about.

I know reading the CBO report on the
bill isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s sometimes the only way to
get unvarnished information.  And
here are the facts.  The bill is
estimated to cost $829 billion over 10 years.  It is deficit reducing, but we only get that through new
taxes and some Medicare Advantage cuts. 

Don’t get me wrong. 
I believe those Medicare Advantage cuts are
warranted
.  I also don’t mind
paying taxes for worthwhile things. 
But we should be honest and admit that we are increasing our spending on health care, not decreasing it. 

What do we get for that money?  Not
nearly as much as you think
. About 14 million more people will be on
Medicaid or CHIP in 10 years.  Another
23 million people will be in the insurance exchange.  A few million people will leave private health insurance.

Universal coverage? 
No.  We will reduce the
number of uninsured Americans by 29 million people.  This means that ten years after this massive bill goes into
effect, after we’ve spent an additional $800 billion on health care, there will
still be 25 million people under the age of 65 who have no health insurance in
the United States of America.

This is the best we can do?  After all this fighting, after all the horse-trading and
passion and screaming and crying, this is really what $800 billion buys?  Quality will barely move.  We’ve done nothing to contain
costs.  And we will still have 6% of the
nation
without insurance.

You know what? 
I don’t want a “uniquely American” solution.  Give me almost any of the solutions in Europe.  I’d even take some of the health care
systems in Asia.  Happily.  Do you have any idea what those systems
could achieve with this kind of increased funding?  We can’t even achieve universal coverage; we can’t even get
close. 

I’m thrilled we are strengthening the safety nets.  I’m glad we are making sure people with
pre-existing conditions will get care. 
I’m not against subsidies, I’m not against insurance company regulation,
and I’m definitely not against reducing the number of people who lack
insurance.  This plan is certainly
unique, and I guess American.  So,
mission accomplished!

Don’t get me wrong. 
I wouldn’t vote against this bill because it’s not perfect.  But please, don’t ask me to cheer for
it.

 

Read more about health care
policy and get your questions answered at Rational
Arguments
.