The Campaign Spot

Tom Daschle’s Health-Care Demagoguery Begins

I really wanted to give Tom Daschle the benefit of the doubt. But his first public event in Indiana as Health and Human Services Secretary-in-waiting is off to a bad start, for those of us who want health-care reformers to see the problems of the current system accurately, instead of trying to paint a simple morality tale with bad-guy doctors and health insurers and good-guy politicians:

DUBLIN, Ind., Dec. 29 — Dolly Sweet, 77, has battled cancer more than once. She’s a fighter. But when her doctor recently prescribed a medication that cost $35,000 a year, she felt she had no choice.

“I canceled the medicine,” she said matter-of-factly to former senator Thomas A. Daschle

President-elect Barack Obama’s top health adviser, who had come to the fire station here on a quest for “fresh ideas” on improving U.S. medical care.

“I wonder if you could talk to the drug companies,” Sweet asked Daschle. “That’s more than my Social Security.”

Daschle, seated on a metal folding chair with pen in hand and videographer in tow, symbolically kicked off the incoming administration’s effort to revamp health care with a grass-roots event that not-so-coincidentally mimicked the types of gatherings that Obama drew on to build support for his presidential candidacy.

“It’s stories like that that can make a huge difference as we try to persuade members of Congress and others about the importance of trying to make the system better,” Daschle told Sweet.

Really? How many members of Congress don’t want to make the health-care system better? How many members need to be persuaded that Americans are dissatisfied with their health-care system, and for how many of them will the tale of woe from the Dickensianly named Dolly Sweet be the deciding factor?

And thus, the latest round of health-care policy discussion starts, another effort to set policy by anecdote, a debate that consists of an endless cavalcade of sickly moppets and arguments that amount to “Pass our bill, or they’ll take little Timmy off the respirator.”

Like most discussions of health care in the campaign, the message from the people is “give me the most advanced health care available and find someone else to pay for it.”

Two years ago I asked my readers for their take on the health-care debate, and the diagnosis was clear: There are no easy solutions, no silver bullets. (See here, here and here.) Doctors have to treat every patient as a potential lawsuit. The benefits of “preventative” health care are greatly overstated (the top 11 reasons for ER visits do not have preventable measures) or widely ignored (lots of people know they ought to quit smoking, put down the bacon cheeseburger, and get on a treadmill, but they don’t). Regulations on insurance companies vary widely from state to state. Medicaid/Medicare patients have a high no-show rate for appointments, requiring doctors and dentists to triple-book appointment times.

Instead, the Post article highlights comments like this:

Jill King had her own theory about why her friend’s cancer medicine was so expensive: Drug companies spend too much money buying meals for doctors. . .

The group that met in the Las Vegas home of Ruby Waller concluded that a single-payer system similar to the Canadian approach might make better sense. “There’s too much profit in health care,” said Waller, 53, who has diabetes.

Yes, the problem is that somebody, somewhere, is making too much money.

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