Critical Condition

Putting the ‘OH!’ in Ohio: I’m Here Because of Natoma, Too

President Obama has chosen Ohio as the battleground for the federal government’s final assault on Americans’ access to medical services. And it’s not just to round up some shaky Democratic Congressmen from the Midwest.

“You want to know why I’m here Ohio? I’m here because of Natoma,” said the president, in a barn-burning speech yesterday. Natoma Canfield is the 50-year old cleaning woman, who survived cancer eleven years ago. She can no longer afford to pay her premiums and has dropped her individual health insurance. The president first used her as a prop back on March 4, when he publicized a letter, which she had written him to encourage his health-insurance “reforms.”

Tragically for Mrs. Canfield, but fortunately for President Obama’s political momentum, Mrs. Canfield has just recently been diagnosed with leukemia, and could not attend yesterday’s rally, although her sister managed to travel from Florida to stand beside the president in his hour of need.

I know nothing about Mrs. Canfield other than that which the president has chosen to promote, so I have no idea whether she would be able to, through her own efforts and those of her family, be able to maintain coverage in a health-insurance market free of control by the federal government. Nevertheless, I’ve already pointed out that the government’s discrimination against individual ownership of health insurance adds an unnecessary obstacle to insurers’ ability to pool risk, and keep premiums low. (Although, it’s not nearly as bad as the government and the media would have us believe.)

Although I don’t know Mrs. Canfield, I’d like to think that I, and the majority of Americans who oppose the so-called “reform” are on her side, too. First, cancer patients fare better in the U.S. than other developed countries where governments have more power over access to health care, generally speaking. So, more government control here will likely also result in reduced quality of care. (See articles by Dr. David Gratzer and Betsy McCaughey.)

Second, as of Jan. 1, 2010, Ohio’s law regulating premiums for individual health insurance is very similar to the policy that President Obama wants instituted federally. As I wrote back in November, Ohio has made it illegal for health insurers to charge actuarially fair premiums in the individual market. They must now offer “open enrolment” to anyone with a pre-existing condition, including cancer, and charge premiums no greater than 1.5 times greater than the premiums charged to healthy, inexpensive, beneficiaries.

Mrs. Canfield’s experience illustrates perfectly that this law’s effect has been the opposite of the one intended by legislators. Insurers’ ability to pool risk is further hindered; premiums for everyone rise; and people drop coverage. The federal “reform” has even tighter price controls. Although the bills allow premiums (in so-called high-risk pools) for older Americans to be up to four times greater than those of younger ones, the Senate bill forbids any difference in premiums due to health status, and the House bill squeezes Ohio’s ratio of 1.5 down to 1.25.

I suppose that President Obama would retort that his massive scheme of taxation and subsidization would prevent Mrs. Canfield from having to choose how to spend her hard-earned dollars, but his proposal merely socializes the costs of her cancer care. It neither reduces them nor insures against them.

— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.


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