By Pat Conrad,Founder, Doctors for Freedom
After belching up the last of my black-eyed peas and rice, and searching in vain for one more bottle of bubbly to welcome the new year, I flipped on the tube and found it was indeed, primary season. And there were the Iowa hopefuls, belching up the last of their (now) tiresome stump rhetoric, and searching vainly for any believable reduction in government health care.
Okay, so maybe I was just crabby over the SEC not sweeping the Big Ten in the bowl games and not giving the candidates their due. After her foray into infectious prevention (the HPV vaccine brouhaha), Michelle Bachman accepted the home version of the game and packed it in, leaving only two-and-a-half candidates to continue the contest (while manic Newt continued as the GOP version of Charlie Sheen, "winning" all the way. Note: as the only physician in the bunch, no one ever asks footnote Ron Paul about health care, and neither then, shall we). So I thought, on the virtual plane to New Hampshire and then points south, let's review where the last players are on health care.
Presumptive nominee Romney has been in the crossha-, uh, spotlight all along for his Massachusetts "miracle" of central connectors and mandates, yet leads off his health care statement with "Repeal and replace" Obamacare...followed immediately demanding for the states the "responsibility [and] flexibility" to act. Unfortunately Mitt also calls for federal "resources...to help the chronically ill, and improve access." Romney also calls for federal malpractice caps, and "innovation grants" to states to develop additional liability reforms. So while Romney doesn't want some kinds of federal health care meddling, he is in favor of others; whereas Mitt was in favor of states rights as a governor, he would rather states continue to look to the feds for approval. Is the viewer merely to infer that Mitt's basic problem with Obamacare is that it simply went to far? If so, that is a problem indeed. Moreover, I didn't see a word on the Romney site about entitlement i.e. Medicare reform.
Buzzing off an overwhelming second-place showing on the plains, Rick Santorum is trying to be THE alternative to crushing moderation. His health care plan makes a more effective attack on Obamacare, and in the next paragraph calls for Newtish cost reductions through electronic records and increasing health care literacy ("winning"!). This translates to more regulation, and more expense for doctors. Like Romney, Rick wants to get the feds involved in promoting state malpractice liability reforms. More credibly, Santorum does call for a 5 year freeze on Medicaid spending, and implementation of the Ryan Plan to reform Medicare, which will leave the seniors in The Villages rattling their bedpans.
And speaking of retirees, just for fun, let's throw Rick Perry into the mix of hopefuls, at least till they close the polls in South Carolina. Perry's first statement on health care is to call Medicare a "program in crisis." To that end, Gov. Rootin' Tootin' wants to program "gradually raising the age of Medicare eligibility" and "adjusting Medicare benefits to be paid on a sliding scale based on income." Like the Ryan plan endorsed by Santorum, this at least recognizes that there is slight math problem that can only be addressed with more traditional calculations. Sadly, it also faces the political realities by giving into the class warfare inherent in means testing. Perry's site makes a great point, that Medicaid rolls have increased by over 20% since 2007, largely abetted by Obama. Perry bluntly states that federal control of Medicaid - and let's face it, what is actually patronage graft - must be returned to the states to save the program. It would have been better still if the governor had taken this logic to the next obvious step, that there is no legitimate federal role in the daily delivery of health care. Oh well, a guy can dream.
The remaining 2.5 GOP candidates have as positions in common: (1) Block grant all Medicaid dollars back to the states; (2) Make health insurance sales available across state lines; (3) Full tax deductibility for privately purchased health insurance. All agree that the federal government is too involved in health care, yet the rhetoric of the leading two candidates suggest there will yet be good works for Washington to pursue even as it presumably trims its involvement.
Short of Newt proposing implantable health record chips in patients' brains, no doubt to increase their individual control over their own care, nothing radical appears in the offing from the GOP. Rhetorically, the root cause of these myriad health problems - federal involvement in health care - remains largely un-assailed.