My turn: In health care vote, Begich turned back on Alaskans

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I was disgusted by Sen. Mark Begich's feeble excuses for why he voted for the Senate health care bill ("Deciding health care reform," published in the Jan. 3 Empire).

Just admit it, senator: You were told how to vote by your party. Strawman arguments ("I believe the status quo is unacceptable," "costs are rising faster than wages," etc.) ignore what is obvious to the most casual observer - this bill is a huge expansion of government into heath care, with enormous taxes, onerous controls (another name for rationing) and compulsory payments to the government. Alaskans didn't ask for this approach to health care, nor do they want it.

The Senate bill proposes current and future "savings" in Medicare of $467 billion from reductions in fraud and waste. Never mind that they have no idea where or how those savings will be made - these "savings" are really cuts in Medicare, with the funds transferred to finance new entitlements.

In the meantime, there are deep cuts in Medicare, including hospice programs and home care services. Further cuts are made in payments to providers, who already must subsidize their Medicare patients using funds from patients with traditional insurance. Billions more in "subsidies" and other benefits will be paid through new taxes and fees, but the reality is the cost for this bill is unknown - no one really has a clue how much it will cost.

Our suddenly fiscal conservative junior senator (yes, the same one that voted for the stimulus bill ) crows about a cost containment amendment he contributed and claims will save hundreds of millions of dollars. Senator, was this the hundreds of millions of dollars your party promised to Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu for her vote? Was it a down payment on the perpetual Medicaid subsidy paid for Sen. Ben Nelson's vote? Maybe it paid for Sen. Chris Dodd's hospital?

I am sure that there are some good things in the Senate bill - but at more than 2,000 pages (not counting the 384-page amendment that mysteriously appeared during the night before final vote), there better be.

It is all so incredibly sneaky. Begich, explain why votes were held in the middle of the night, on weekends and on holidays? Did you really think we were not paying attention? My mom always said nothing good happens in the middle of the night - she was right.

The really devastating details of this health care takeover are in thousands of new regulations to be written and enforced by a new health care czar at the Department of Health and Social Services. The oft repeated criticism of the current system is that insurance companies stand between the doctor and patient. The new plan puts a government bureaucrat between the doctor and patient. Think I'm wrong? How else does the government plan to enforce all those thousands of new regulations?

Begich claims the "status quo was unacceptable," ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Americans are satisfied with their health care. Instead of listening to us, the voters, he jumped when ordered by his Senate seniors while ignoring the obvious - presently there is little market pressure to lower prices, precisely because our current system is already dominated by government regulation.

Without market pressure, the only way to control price is for the government to control access - decades of socialist experimentation prove that. That is the status quo, senator, and that's why the Senate bill is thousands of pages long - the government will virtually monopolize control of medicine. The present bill ignores the law of supply and demand. Similar to past socialist experiments, it simply declares the cost of many medical goods and services, regardless of their true cost and true availability.

The best way to increase supply is to reduce the true cost of the commodity so that more people can afford it. Three very simple market based measures could have been taken to reduce the cost of health care and thereby make it more affordable:

• Allow insurance to be sold over state lines to break monopolies and increase competition. The Senate plan does nothing to break the market monopolies - why do you think the insurance companies support it?

• Tort reform: Arguably the simplest and fastest way to reduce waste and lower costs. It's barely mentioned in the Senate bill. No wonder - trial lawyers are one of the Democrats most reliable donors.

• Consumer incentives to shop and save. A sign in a local Juneau medical office says it all: "20 percent credit for cash." Huge savings could be accomplished if consumers are allowed to participate in savings, such as with health savings accounts, which bypass most government and insurance red tape. However, the Senate bill raises taxes on health savings accounts (if they are even allowed at all).

If Sen. Mark Begich was sincere in wanting to decrease medical cost and increase availability, he would have supported these and other initiatives (which were in the Republican alternative plan). He would have fought his party's intrusion into this, the most private aspect of our lives.

Instead, he ignored the large majority of Alaskans and most other Americans, and obediently lined up with his party bosses. Some say this is just how legislation is made, like sausage. Well, senator, this isn't some run-of-the-mill legislation. It will affect, deeply, all of our lives. Your party leaders are hiding behind closed doors as I write this, plotting my health care future, without the support of the American people, refusing to even allow us to observe. Senator, you should be as outraged as the rest of us.

In the past, we could count on two senators to look out for Alaska. I can't wait for that happy day again.

• Tony Yorba is a Juneau business owner.

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