Nurse Ratched Democrats
Dems refuse to see that government incentives contributed to the health-care problem.


Mona Charen

The president and his party in Congress are attempting to dig this country so deep into debt that we may not be able to climb out. This is a strong and resilient country, but we wouldn’t be the first great nation to bankrupt itself.

Four months ago, while the Democrats were hatching their health-care behemoths, only policy wonks noticed a report issued by the Social Security and Medicare trustees. It showed that the combined unfunded liability of the two programs has now reached $107 trillion. That’s seven times the size of the U.S. economy, and it could go higher, as Medicare and Medicaid spending have consistently increased 2.5 percentage points faster than per capita GDP since 1970.

Just to pay for these programs — excluding everything else the government does — the federal government would have to collect one-third of the earnings of every American by 2054. That, or cut benefits.

This is a government-created vise. But like a neurotic who can never perceive the self-inflicted nature of his troubles, Democrats cannot or will not see that much of what is wrong with America’s health-care system is government-caused. The patient has a 104-degree fever and Dr. Democrat is prescribing heating pads. The bills currently under consideration in the House and Senate will cost taxpayers more than $3 trillion over the first ten years of their existence. They will burden the entire U.S. economy with new and burdensome taxes, stifle medical advances, and diminish the quality of care, and even then will not cover all of the uninsured.

The Obama administration has howled its indignation at what it calls “lies” about “death panels” and other aspects of reform. Yet everything about the Democrats’ overhaul plans is grounded in distortions and misrepresentations.

Democrats and their foot soldiers in the press gave wide circulation to the Harvard study suggesting that lack of health insurance causes 45,000 annual deaths. What they didn’t tell you was that the study was the work of Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group for a single-payer system. The survey was flawed in many respects, but the authors themselves acknowledged the most salient: Unmeasured characteristics (i.e., that individuals who place less value on health eschew both health insurance and healthy behaviors) might offer an alternative explanation for our findings.

It is simply not true that we are paying twice as much as any other industrialized nation and yet getting worse care. As this column and others have noted, the most common metrics used to compare U.S. health outcomes with those of other countries are life expectancy and infant mortality. Both are fatuous comparisons. The U.S. has a high murder rate, for example, which influences life-expectancy statistics, not to mention an obesity epidemic. We also have more teenagers giving birth. And we count infant deaths differently from many other countries, including even the most severely premature babies in our statistics.

When you compare survival rates after a cancer diagnosis — a much better gauge of health-care quality — the U.S. leads the world.