Consider this cure for what's ailing us

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Remember when politicians took their marching orders straight from public opinion polls? There wasn't much suspense to it, but at least we were getting the government we said we wanted.

Now, it seems, Congress has decided to wander off on its own. It's working up a health care "reform" so that next time we're sick we can go to a lawyer. ...This is not what we want. Surely not what we need.

All puffed up with their handiwork, the Democrats who run the Senate are preparing to wage battle with the Republican House and president for this exaggerated patients' bill of rights. ... This bill is like wrapping the ankle of a patient who has a sucking chest wound and expecting him to be grateful for the attention.

In simplified terms, the health care system patched together over the years requires insurance companies and "managed care" organizations to ride herd on doctors as well as patients to keep down costs. Saving money is good. But that has also reduced our access to care, which is bad.

So now, this bill tells the bean-counters to stand aside some. To make sure they do, lawyers and juries will do the dirty work as enforcers. The chief bone of contention seems to be whether and how to limit these enforcement lawsuits. That's how low our ambitions for health care have fallen.

I've been researching opinion polls. Nowhere do I see that Americans are clamoring for more courtroom tedium to heal what ails them. For that matter, nowhere do I see that they're feeling healthier thanks to bewildering insurance paperwork. But in poll after poll, a Top 10 concern of Americans is health care, plain and simple.

The fan dance underway in the capital will do nothing except make worse what is occurring in the nation. Employer-based health insurance plans are eroding. Premiums are soaring. The number of Americans without insurance is climbing, perhaps to 45 million of us. Many cannot afford their medicine.

Let's remember this:

Insurance companies do not deliver health care. They are profit-driven bureaucracies. If they had their way, they would insure only the healthy. As soon as we got unhealthy, we'd be uninsured. And to be safe, they'd screen our DNA for risks.

Lawsuits also do not deliver health care. They sometimes deliver punishment after the fact. And a tidy living for lawyers. The whole idea seems to be that if enough miserable, mistreated and maimed people who have been victimized by this nutty system go to court and win - why, things will be better for the rest of us. When ancient peoples did this we called it human sacrifice.

I say, let's collectively hire our own doctors and civil service health administrators. Private sector profits have no place in a business so important as life and death.

Why are we so afraid of managing our own health care through our government, anyway? Because we don't want heavy-handed, slow-moving decisions. Yet what could be more heavy-handed and slow-moving than the system we have?

Instead, let's follow the example of those we trust most when the going gets tough. According the Gallup Poll, Americans hold their armed services in higher regard than any institution, even churches. The government health care system for the military - known as Tricare - is considered one of the most important inducements to serve in the armed forces. Heard any of these folks clamoring to give it up?

What I'm speaking of is health care along the lines of what Vice President Dick Cheney gets. Why do they want to make it so cruel and cumbersome for the rest of us?

Balzar is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. (c) 2001, Los Angeles Times.

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