Iraq War Costs Americans in Health Care Tradeoff

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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Iraq War Costs Americans in Health Care Tradeoff

by
John Young

"People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room." -- George W. Bush

That's right, Mr. President. And thanks for pointing out what's wrong with a status quo you've done almost nothing to alter. Welcome to the ER. It is America's answer to a phony debate. Health care: Is it a right? Of course it is.

Were it not, ERs would bar their doors to the uninsured. People would expire on the curb. Bodies would bloat in the streets.

They don't. Because without saying as much, we know that health care is not your business or my business, it's our business. Like education. Like highways. Like waterways.

Unfortunately in our consumerist society, consumerist appeals win the day when policy is made ("Defend freedom -- go shopping"). We treat health care like we might pastry or perfume. 'Twould be nice that everyone had either, but ...

But, to reiterate what Bush says: Everyone has health access, in the ER. Just be prepared as a society to pay emergency-room costs. Imagine instead more people seeing doctors in advance of cataclysm, more children healthy and in school more days.

The other day I was stunned by the vitriol in a critique of Congress and Bush regarding health care. What was stunning was that it came from William W. Hinchey, president of the Texas Medical Association.

For half a century this nation's medical establishment has been reliably and comfortably pro-status quo.

Hinchey writes that his "Irish blood is boiling" as federal budget pressures cause more and more physicians to deny treatment to Medicare recipients. This relates to a freeze on Medicare reimbursement rates going back to 2001.

The association's "Texas Medicare Manifesto" demands reimbursement rates that keep up with the cost of providing services. The National Governors Association sounds just as furious. It has denounced Medicaid regulations proposed by the Bush administration to shift billions of dollars in costs to the states. Where states don't pick up the slack, hospitals and ERs will.

That's how everyone ends up paying for the uninsured. Stop assuming that the free market will resolve this. All the free market does is provide for those who can afford pastry and perfume.

In addition to being a referendum on the war, this year's presidential election will be a referendum on health care.

On the Republican side the trust will be placed in the free market, and the supposed magic of "health care spending accounts" or tax credits that fritter around the edges. In the Democratic primary Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have proposals that would change the equation more dramatically than ever since the creation of Medicare.

Clinton would require health insurance for all Americans and provide subsidies to help residents cover the cost. Obama would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover all uninsured children and expand Medicaid eligibility to cover more adults. You ask how they intend to pay for this. Both would, at minimum, revoke the Bush tax cuts for America's wealthiest.

But when it comes to the cost of national coverage, statists' concerns about the price tag are disingenuous. We already pay for the uninsured through hospital costs and insurance rates. If more had health insurance, with real preventive care and health maintenance, we would have a healthier country with fewer pressures on hospitals and health-care costs.

Does America lack resources? You decide. Right now we are spending $475 million a day occupying Iraq. Sixty percent of discretionary federal spending is on our military.

How much health insurance would $4,100 purchase? In addition to the devastation that has visited the homes of 3,248 U.S. war dead, that -- $4,100 -- is what Iraq has cost every American family. See www.costofwar.com. America has resources. See them at your emergency room and in Iraq.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail: jyoung@wacotrib.com.

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