March 6, 2009
President Obama's "Health Care Summit" continued at the White House today. From Ted Kennedy to the National Federation of Independent Business, a diverse group was assembled to provide input in the large public forum and in smaller "breakout" sessions.
It is beyond dispute all Americans want consistent access to high-quality and cost-effective medical insurance and care. No one who has ever seen a loved one suffer or who has personally experienced a serious disease or injury wants anything less. How we arrive at this goal is where the division lies. President Obama has asserted that health care is a "right." Is healthcare itself a "right" or is access to health care a right? These are important distinctions. If it is a fundamental right it must be provided for and that would fall to the government. A government-run monopoly would result in sharp increases in health care costs, rationing of healthcare and a decline in quality.
The President is calling for comprehensive health care reform by year's end and certainly is and will be getting myriad ideas for how to do this. Of course, none of these ideas are new nor must they be ferreted-out from obscure places. The options for health care reform boil-down to a relatively few essential proposals. Reforming America's system of providing medical care is not a matter of finding some mysterious new formula, but of choosing between some basic options - options the President and his advisors know well. No "summit" can ameliorate the stark and rather sharp differences between the options themselves and which the President must, ultimately, propose.
Given his demonstrable commitment to a Herculean federal state, there is little doubt about what direction he will take. But the President's personal courtesy, his inclusion of occasional ideas from conservatives and even his willingness to engage in tactical compromise will not resolve four intractable concerns:
- The Culture of Life: President Obama has said he wants to reverse the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding of abortion for lower-income women under the Medicaid program. He is calling for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and already has reversed the Reagan-Bush policy that disallows federal funding for international organizations that promote or provide abortion. President Obama's "abortion reduction agenda" is premised on the wider-spread distribution of contraceptives to teenage Americans. At the Health Care Summit, Planned Parenthood had a prominent role - yet not a single pro-life organization was invited. When it comes to protecting the unborn, it seems clear that whatever medical reform plan is offered, it will not prioritize their well-being and could well, instead, destroy it.
- The Goal of Government-Run Health Care is Back: In the early 1990s, the Clinton health care plan envisioned a massive federal takeover of one-seventh of the American economy. Today, the Left is much more artful in its efforts. Gone is talk of a new federal health care behemoth governing individual healthcare choices. Instead, federally directed health care is taking a much more incremental approach, one in which the components of a national health care system are more 'bite-sized" but which, taken together, still would constitute a Washington-run system of health insurance, research, information collection and decision-making. Myriad state-run models around the world teach us one thing: Nationalized health care is bad policy and produces inferior medical care. Period.
- The Nature of Constitutional Governance: The Constitution of the United States prescribes for the federal government a relative handful of duties. Health care for its citizens is not one of them. Recognizing that we cannot undo a wide swath of public health care programs in a day, and also that many of them perform vital services on which the nation now depends, should not conservatives at least be arguing that as we consider the future, private sector-driven solutions at the state and local level are not only the most effective with respect to quality, affordable medical treatment but also the most consistent with the Constitution itself? No argument is ever won unless it's made. We fail our Founders - and our children - if we simply jettison the need for deferring to our nation's charter text in this or in any other discussion of major national issues.
- Being Civil Will Not Bring Greater Agreement on Foundational Principles. President Obama is personally winsome and is an ingratiating public host. He listens well, empathizes and often reflects carefully what even his opponents express. Yet being cordial, while welcome in itself, fails to ameliorate the reality of entrenched and unflinching philosophical disagreement. As liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has noted, "I believe that (President Obama) overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences." On health care as on much else, simply being nice is not enough: While all Americans should be personally respectful, we are in the midst of grim political combat over the direction of our country.
The private sector, including the pharmaceutical industry, large industrial and technology companies, hospitals, health care providers and small businesses, needs to engage constructively, to the extent possible, in helping to craft the President's plan. Yet they should also be willing to stand and say "no" when that plan strays from the principles of personal responsibility, market discipline and provider-patient decision-making. And the pro-life community must, at all costs, remain a fixed and immovable force for the voiceless little ones whose very lives depend on us.