Citizens Create Health Care Wish List for Congress

Published August 1, 2006

In late 2003, Congress created a quasi-commission “to bring the views of everyday Americans to the job of creating a better health care system.”

After dozens of hearings and community meetings in 30 states, attended by thousands of people, the 14 members of the “Citizens’ Health Care Working Group” published its interim recommendations on June 1.

The report offers a wish list for a utopian health care system. For example:

  • “It should be public policy, established in law, that all Americans have affordable health care coverage.”
  • “Access to care means that everyone should be able to get the right care at the right time and at the right place.”
  • “A defined set of benefits is guaranteed, by law, for all, across their lifespan, in a simple and seamless manner.”
  • “The federal government will use the resources of its public programs to improve quality and efficiency while controlling costs across the entire health care system.”

Now there’s an ambitious agenda.

Socializing Medicine

In meeting after meeting, there was strong support for a national health plan financed by taxpayers. Granted, many of those who showed up were encouraged to attend by groups that have a vested interest in government-funded programs or came to tell of their own awful struggles with health insurance.

But it is important to listen to these sentiments from people who are fed up with the health care system. There was a strong feeling that, if the profit motive in the health sector could be eliminated, all of these goals could be achieved without any other trade-offs.

Triggering Alarms

The group’s recommendation calling for a “core benefits package” seems to have set off some of the loudest alarms among free-market advocates. The package would encompass “wellness, preventive services, primary care, acute care, prescription drugs, patient education, and treatment and management of health problems provided across a full range of inpatient and outpatient settings.”

The group stipulates that a decision about the benefits would be made by “an independent non-partisan private-public group” that will use a “fair, transparent and scientific process.”

One clue about how it would actually work: When the citizens who participated in the meetings held nationwide were working in small groups to create their own core benefits packages, they couldn’t even eliminate plastic surgery because someone might need it.

Core benefits packages quickly turn into requirements that everything be covered, inevitably making the coverage prohibitively expensive, critics note.

Raising Taxes

To pay for all this? More taxes, of course. The commission suggested “enrollee contributions, income taxes or surcharges, ‘sin taxes,’ business or payroll taxes, or value-added taxes.”

Several recommendations would move health care in the right direction, such as recognizing that everyone needs at least major medical protection. The citizens who were electronically polled at each meeting also were very clear that everyone has a responsibility to contribute to their coverage. And there was a call, in meeting after meeting, for simplicity in the health care system. (In fact, the cry for simplicity seems to underlie the call for a national health plan.)

Are these recommendations going anywhere? Not anytime soon. The commission’s recommendations provide few new ideas about how to get from the wish list to actual policy.

It’s more useful to look at this report as putting a finger on the pulse of Americans who are fed up with the health care system after, of course, being fed a steady diet by political and policy leaders day after day about how awful our system is compared to those in other, more “civilized” nations.

Accepting Comments

The commission was created by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and the members were appointed by the comptroller general. The recommendations in the June document are just interim findings, and the group will be accepting comments for the next 90 days before it issues a final report.

If there is a change in leadership in Congress this fall, the recommendations may receive more attention. Media coverage so far has been limited, but when the formal report is issued, probably just before the midterm elections, it could receive more attention.

The results of the hearings, in which people voted on handheld remotes, are available at They are instructive for anyone wanting an early read on sentiment leading up to the 2008 presidential elections from those who are likely to be the most vocal in that debate.

Grace-Marie Turner ([email protected]) is president of the Galen Institute, a nonprofit, free-market organization in Alexandria, Virginia.