By John R. Lott, Jr.
Senior Research Scientist, University of Maryland/Author, “Freedomnomics”
“If you got health insurance, then you can keep it . . . and we won’t do anything about that,” at least that was what President Obama promised during the campaign last year. Well, add that to a very long list of broken campaign promises, including: cutting government spending, reducing the deficit, and “no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.”
Just as bad, on Friday it was revealed that Obama and the Democrats have no problem pushing through Senate votes on these radical health care changes that strip away normal procedural protections for those who oppose such changes.
Last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, let the cat out of the bag on health care. In explaining why universal health care wasn’t going to increase the deficit, Summers said that people are just getting too much unnecessary care. Summers claimed: “whether it’s tonsillectomies or hysterectomies . . . procedures are done three times as frequently [in some parts of the country than others] and there’s no benefit in terms of the health of the population. And by doing the right kind of cost-effectiveness, by making the right kinds of investments and protection, some experts that we — estimate that we could take as much as $700 billion a year out of our health care system.”
This sure seems like rationing. Total health care expenditures in the United States in 2008 came to $2.4 trillion, implying that Summers believes that the proper government regulations can cut health care expenditures by almost 30 percent. That would cut back health care a lot. Summers softened the blow by saying that right now the government wouldn’t have to cut expenditures by more than a third of that $700 billion.
Tonsillectomies have primarily been done because of acute or chronic throat pain. Where different people are willing to draw the line between pain and surgery is a choice that we have traditionally left up to patients, but unless you know something about the patient’s preferences it is hard to claim that a surgery was a “mistake.”
The selective use of statistics by Summers and others in the Obama administration is startling. In 2000, New York had 501 abortions per 1,000 live births, Wyoming had 1. New York had 31 abortions per 1,000 women, Wyoming had fewer than 1. Abortion procedures rarely involve the health of the mother. Yet, presumably, Summers wouldn’t argue that these gaps, which are 10 to 167 times greater than the 3-to-1 ratio that so upsets him for other procedures, imply that abortions should be rationed.
It’s strange that the Democratic Party, a group that doesn’t think the government should intervene between a doctor and a woman when it comes to determining whether or not to have an abortion, appears to have no problem in telling doctors whether they can perform “tonsillectomies or hysterectomies.”
Ironically, the Obama administration isn’t confident enough that they can simply explain to people what medical procedures they should have. If people are getting costly, unnecessary procedures, don’t you think that the insurance companies would already have learned about it? For anyone who thinks that insurance companies are too stingy, the Obama administration has a news flash: insurance companies have been paying for too much health care.
But the Obama administration apparently doesn’t think that they can simply convince people of the value of their advice. Sadly, Summers and the rest of the Obama administration have no problem forcing people to do what they think best.
Yet, not only is Obama going to break his promise on interfering with these decisions, he has no problem with forcing this change on people. Democrats have apparently figured out a way to pass health care legislation without mustering the 60 votes normally needed to pass things in the Senate. To do this, health care won’t be voted on as a separate piece of legislation, but as part of the budget. The proposals also won’t be voted on in the Senate when the budget legislation is first brought up, but only after the final budget bill has gone through the process of “reconciliation” with the House.