Tonight in New York City, the Benjamin Rush Society will host its inaugural event: a debate on health care before a gathering of medical students and doctors. Under the leadership of Sally C. Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute and a longtime writer and researcher on health-care issues, the group hopes to organize medical practitioners and students much as the Federalist Society began organizing law students a generation ago. Pipes recently took questions from NRO’s John J. Miller.
JOHN J. MILLER: Everybody has a favorite Founding Father. The Federalist Society uses James Madison in its logo. Conservatives often rave about John Adams. Who the heck was Benjamin Rush?
SALLY C. PIPES: In establishing a Federalist Society–type organization for medical students and doctors, it seemed appropriate to name the society after Benjamin Rush because of his status as a medical doctor and as an American Founding Father.
Rush lived in Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, and educator. He was a good friend of Jefferson’s. While lesser known than Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, he attended the Continental Congress and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He may be best known today for restoring the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams by encouraging the two to start writing to each other again in 1812.
MILLER: So he was a practicing doctor?
PIPES: Yes. He received a B.A. from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton, and then studied medicine in Philadelphia under Dr. John Redman. At the encouragement of Redman, Benjamin Rush went to the University of Edinburgh, where he received his medical degree. Returning to Philadelphia in 1769, he opened a medical practice and then became a professor of chemistry at what is now the University of Pennsylvania. In 1777, he became surgeon-general for the middle department of the Continental Army. In 1783, he was appointed to the staff of Pennsylvania Hospital, where he worked until his death in 1813.
MILLER: Why do medical students need to think about public policy? Isn’t that just time spent away from lessons on treating cancer and fixing ingrown toenails?
PIPES: Medical students need to think about public policy because the reforms that are coming to health care under the Obama administration all involve a greater role for government, which will take away their ability to practice the type of medicine in which they’ve been trained. Current legislation threatens to set up a public-insurance plan to compete with private insurers within a national insurance exchange. Mandates will drive up costs of private insurance. I believe that the government plan will be priced lower than the private plans. Therefore, the private insurers will be “crowded out” and we’ll be left with a single-payer, government-run system.
MILLER: What’s so bad about having the same people who run the Department of Motor Vehicles also in charge of our health?
PIPES: Under “Medicare for All,” health care will be rationed, waiting lists will grow long, and Americans will not have access to the latest technologies and treatments if the government thinks it costs too much. Medical students need to understand the increased role of government in health care and what it means for access to the latest drugs, biologics, and medical devices. New treatments for cancers, heart disease, and strokes won’t become available. Bureaucrats will disempower doctors and patients.
Medical students need to be able to explain why it is necessary for them to promote universal choice in medicine. Only then will we reach universal coverage. What good will universal coverage be if there is often no access to health care, as is the case in countries like Canada, where government is the provider?
MILLER: Your debate on April 7 will ask: Should universal health care be the responsibility of the federal government? Well?
PIPES: I am on the “no” side of the argument. I grew up in Canada under a single-payer, government-run system where there is no private insurance. It’s been a disaster. In order to control costs, the government sets a global budget for health care. Canada spends about 10 percent of GDP on health care, while the United States spends about 16 percent, which is said to be too much.
As a result, in Canada, the demand for care greatly exceeds the supply. A few facts: The average wait between seeing a primary-care doctor and getting treatment by a specialist is four months; 750,000 Canadians are on a waiting list for some medical procedure; 3.2 million Canadians are waiting to get a primary-care doctor. These numbers are enormous when you consider that Canada has a population of 33 million — about the size of California.
MILLER: Don’t a lot of Canadians who need medical help come to the United States out of desperation?
PIPES: They have an escape valve when they’re on a waiting list and fear for their lives or are in great pain: They come to the United States and pay out of pocket. When former Canadian MP Belinda Stronach, who opposed opening up the Canadian system to include private options, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she came to Los Angeles for her treatment and paid out of pocket. There are many stories like this.
In America, 47 percent of health care is in the hands of government today. Politicians want to get hold of the other 53 percent. All Americans will be under a “Medicare for All” system and it won’t be good for the health of patients.
MILLER: Why didn’t the Founding Fathers include a right to universal health insurance in the Constitution?
PIPES: The American Revolution was fought and based on the natural rights of man, by virtue of being human beings. The Founding Fathers believed in the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. They did not feel that Americans should have a right to health care, housing, or entertainment. Their view was that individuals should be able to provide these things for themselves, and that society should be organized to assist them in doing so, through protection of property rights and keeping taxes low, so Americans could make their own decisions on how to spend their money, rather than having the government in charge.
MILLER: Do you envision a future in which a Republican administration staffs the Department of Health and Human Services with members of the Benjamin Rush Society, just as the Bush administration looked to the Federalist Society for judicial appointments and jobs at the Department of Justice?
PIPES: It is my ultimate goal that when Republicans are returned to power, HHS, the White House, and state departments of health care will be staffed with members of the Benjamin Rush Society. Only then will we have a group of doctors who fully understand and promote health-care reform based on empowering doctors and patients and reducing the role of government in our health-care system so that we don’t end up with “Medicare for All.” It’s not the American way.