August 22, 2007

Government Money for Symptoms or Real Solutions?

Recently, the bloggers at The Plank have been posting quite a few articles supporting government health care, and SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) in particular. What struck me about these two posts:

The SCHIP on Bush's Shoulder - Ben Crair
The Kids are Alright - Jonathan Cohn

was the lack of any willingness to consider what a real health care solution might look like and clear demonstration that such programs are incremental national health care programs.

Real Success

Cohn claims the program has been "remarkedly successful at reducing the number of low-income children without insurance". While it is true that SCHIP provides health care for some children, what should the real measure of success be for such a program? It is great to help children, but Ben Crair notes in his article that "since 1996...the average cost of a premium for a family plan has grown five times as fast as the federal poverty level" (emphasis mine). In other words, while the government throws money at a problem symptom (uninsured children), the underlying problem (health care costs) is becoming horribly worse and tax payers are eating it (in taxes and in funding their own health care).

Rather than stopping to wonder what government could do (or stop doing?) to address the root problem of high cost health care in the US, Crair and Cohn argue that the program needs to be expanded. Indeed, Cohn declares that he has no problem with expanding the program to cover the middle class and even upper class households.

Incremental Nationalization of Health Care

Crair reveals that "When SCHIP was first created...eligibility [was generally restricted] to families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Since then...several states have increased that cap to 300 [or 350 in NJ] percent. Cohn addresses concerns that a program established to provide health care for poor children is becoming a program to provide health care for middle class children in two ways. First, he observes more than 90% of the children in SCHIP are under 200% of the poverty line. Second, and more importantly, he admits that he "personally would have no problem with government insuring middle-class Americans -- and upper-class, too."

It seems to me that rather than ignoring the rising costs of health care and just hoping for a magical government solution, one should try to understand why health care costs so much and what can be done to solve the real problem.

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