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Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

How the Beltway Bandits See the World



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Silly me. All this time I’ve been complaining about the stupidity of the businessmen convinced that they could buy off the Beltway bandits, while I have missed the stupidity of the bandits themselves.

The Beltway bandits may know how to steal from the private sector — that is, from ordinary people making far less than the $250,000 benchmark made famous during the 2008 campaign — but that does not obscure their own brand of dumb, which inexorably comes to the surface from time to time. And this time it is displayed in all its glory by the delightfully named Rep. Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. (How’s your investigation of Charlie Rangel going, Bart? Oh, never mind.) Anyway, Stupak informed any and all this week that the real source of the massive distortions in the U.S. health-coverage market is insurance industry “practices.” Nothing about the tax distortions yielding the wrong incentives for everyone. Nothing about the tort problem. Nothing about the perverse incentives of government officials and bureaucrats who have, not patients, but interest groups to satisfy.

Nope. That’s all irrelevant. What is relevant to Mr. Stupak is rising premiums — an effect rather than a cause — and the habit of insurers to scrutinize claims. In other words, the kind of real cost control that Medicare simply ignores. What is dumb about Mr. Stupak’s argument is not the utter banality of the thesis itself; it is his remarkable ability to keep a straight face while promoting it. This suggests that he actually believes it — which is not a good harbinger of things to come when all the perversities of federal health care begin to manifest themselves with a roar.

– Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.



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