Bush Administration Stumbles

Published April 1, 2001

Misgivings about President George W. Bush’s ideas on health care are turning into alarm as the new administration unfolds. A White House press release issued in conjunction with the President’s visits to Arkansas and Georgia listed five bullet points on his Blueprint for Health Care and Medical Research. I’ve added commentary on each:

  • Doubles funding for NIH by 2003 and provides an increase of $2.8 billion in 2002: the largest dollar increase in NIH’s budget in years. While health research has a feel-good, motherhood, and apple pie quality, it is quite a stretch to think NIH could make rational use of this enormous infusion of cash. NIH is populated with many of the liberal health policy staffers who found themselves jobless after the Republicans took over Congress in 1995. This money will be spent not only on scientific research, but also to advance a political agenda that prefers National Health Insurance over market-based solutions.
  • Increases the number of Community Health Centers by 1,200, doubling the number of people served, and helping the 44 million uninsured Americans get access to quality health care. Another enormous infusion of money into the public health community that is determined to install single payer.
  • Provides Immediate Helping Hand prescription drug assistance to low-income seniors. This may be okay, so long as it isn’t a dodge from needed Medicare reform. But it carries a real danger of expanding the welfare state and becoming a permanent program.
  • Provides new tax credits to help lower-income Americans purchase private health insurance. If tax credits are a good idea, then they should be extended to everyone without regard to income. Basing the tax credit on income is exactly the wrong approach. It discourages work initiative by phasing out benefits when income rises above the allowable income level. It detracts from creating a more rational tax policy for health care by making tax fairness part of the welfare debate. This isn’t health policy, but welfare policy.
  • Permanently extends Medical Savings Accounts to allow families to save for health care needs. This is in there to buy-off conservatives, but notice it says “extends,” not “expands.” Making the current tiny pilot program, filled with restrictions included to limit its appeal and success, would be a huge mistake. The program needs to be greatly expanded and deregulated, not merely “extended.”

As disturbing as this White House material may be, it pales in comparison to the signals coming out of HHS. Secretary Tommy Thompson has said he would prefer to have the uninsured purchase their coverage from the government. He is quoted as saying, “If tax credits are the way the President decides he wants us to go, I’m going to follow him” . . . but, “if Congress decided to go another way, I’m certainly there to offer advice as to what I think works in America.”

Meanwhile, Thompson’s pet program is falling flat with workers, according to an article in the Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee. The local NFIB surveyed its members and found only 3 percent have employees enrolled in “BadgerCare,” which is Thompson’s model for how the uninsured should get government-sponsored coverage.

Greg Scandlen is senior fellow in health policy at the National Center for Policy Analysis located in Dallas, Texas. To sign up for his free weekly e-newsletter send an email to: [email protected]. Scandlen can be contacted at [email protected].

For more information . . . on the White House’s Blueprint for Health Care and Medical Research, visit the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov, or call the White House communications office at 202/456-2777.