03/2002: The Galen Report

Published March 1, 2002

The contrast between modern consumer-oriented ideas to reform the health care system and tired centralized-control models came into sharp contrast again recently.

Senator Ted Kennedy, sadly, is dredging up failed ideas from the past. He said in a National Press Club speech in Washington that the federal government should mandate that all companies with more than 100 employees must provide health insurance to their workers.

The threat of an employer mandate was one of the death-knells of ClintonCare in 1994. Millions of employers do provide health insurance or added compensation because they want to do the right thing, but for some, these added and rising costs can make the difference between success and failure of the business. As long as they can provide the benefit voluntarily, the great majority will do so. A government dictate will never fly.

Right now, workers and employers are negotiating creative ways to give consumers more control over decisions and choices while helping to keep costs down. These innovations would never work under the thumb of government controls.

It’s time for a change. For at least a decade, Washington political leaders have told us how terrible our health care system is. The message has gotten through. When I speak with Europeans, they believe we are just short of barbarians and are astonished to learn we don’t actually leave people to bleed in the streets if they don’t have health insurance.

The truth is, the United States still offers the world’s best quality and most innovative health care. The change we need is to find creative new ways to get health coverage to millions of Information Age workers who are shut out of the system by antiquated Industrial Age policies.

It’s Personal

AMA President Dr. Richard Corlin talks about the quality of the American health care system in a column about his recent personal experience with emergency medical care for a growth in his lung.

“Every doctor, nurse, and health professional I dealt with was kind, caring and—above all—competent. And my health insurance paid for all of that first-rate care.

“My positive experience with everyday American medicine has given me an insight into correcting the issue of the uninsured. And that is, most of our health care delivery system is working very well, and should not be discarded under the guise of correcting the problems of the uninsured or any other aspects of health care that need our attention,” he writes.

“Most prior efforts to insure the uninsured have failed because the desire has been to replace everything in our system with something new and untried. This scares off the large majority for whom the system works well. I think I always understood this lesson at an intellectual level. Now, through my own experience, I know it at a very personal and emotional level as well,” he says.

This may signal an important shift in the AMA. Thanks to former AMA president and our valued colleague, Dr. Stormy Johnson, for alerting us to the column.

For the full column by Dr. Corlin: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/1690.html

— Grace-Marie Turner


The Iron Curtain Around Medical Progress
Robert Goldberg
Health Affairs Book Review, January/February 2002

After reading J.D. Kleinke’s new book, Oxymorons: The Myth of a U.S. Health Care System, Robert Goldberg of the Manhattan Institute asks why “so many see medical progress and the private firms that produce medical technologies as the real threat to our health care system?”

In his book, Kleinke argues that “The only progress we make in health care is the progress we make in medicine.” He describes an “Iron Curtain” of price controls, bureaucracy, and drug switching that limits medical innovation.

Full text of book review: http://www.healthaffairs.org/freecontent/s38.htm

Pfizer to Offer Drug Discount [Actually a Benefit] to Low-Income Elderly
Robert Pear and Melody Petersen
The New York Times, 1/16/02

Pfizer Inc. announced it has created a new “Share Card” program to offer its drugs to low-income seniors who don’t have drug coverage for a flat fee of $15 a month for each prescription, much less than the average retail price of $65, reports The New York Times.

Pfizer Chairman Henry A. McKinnell said the company’s program is intended to “bridge the gap in drug coverage until broader Medicare reform” is adopted. An estimated seven million people with gross incomes under $18,000 (for individuals) and $24,000 (for couples) could qualify for this program.

Full text of article (requires free registration): http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/16/business/16DRUG.html

CDC National Vaccination Plan Is Flawed
Veronique de Rugy
The Cato Institute

“Americans should be free to choose the smallpox vaccine if and when they want it,” says Veronique de Rugy in an op-ed that first appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She says that the current Centers for Disease Control and Health and Human Services plans are flawed, top-down approaches that could violate constitutional rights. A better approach would be to let individuals and doctors decide who should be vaccinated.

Full text of article: http://www.cato.org/research/articles/derugy-020110.html

The Daschle Stimulus Proposal Ignores Unemployed Workers Who Lack Health Care Coverage
Nina Owcharenko
The Heritage Foundation, 1/31/02

The health coverage plan offered by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle would force most unemployed workers into the welfare program in order to receive health care benefits through the inefficient and expensive Medicaid program. The proposal put forth by President George W. Bush and passed by the House before the Christmas break instead would give all displaced workers a refundable tax credit for 60 percent of the cost of premiums. Not only would the tax credit provide comprehensive and immediate relief for the unemployed, but it would also give them choices that the Daschle plan does not allow.

Owcharenko proposes going even farther by increasing the tax credit to 75 percent of the cost of the premium and allowing non-employer groups such as churches and nonprofit organizations to offer plans with the same tax benefits employers now receive.

Full text of memo: http://www.heritage.org/shorts/20020131health.html

Material for this report is provided by The Galen Institute, P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA 22320, http://www.galen.org. Grace-Marie Turner is president. This report is produced by Elizabeth Lamirand, who can be reached at 703/299-9550, and edited by Conrad F. Meier, managing editor of Health Care News.