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Jewish World Review
July 28, 2009 / 7 Menachem-Av 5769
Mr. Oblivious to Evidence
The last moments of President Obama's press conference last week
have gotten the most attention, and some of the president's supporters have
wondered whether his big-footed interference in the Cambridge professor's
melodrama has overshadowed Obama's push for health care reform.
But the president's response to Gatesgate actually sheds a lot
of light on his approach to health care and other issues, for this reason:
Obama adopts his positions before knowing what he is talking about. To be
fair, Obama admitted as much, at least as far as Gates was concerned. "I
don't know all the facts," he acknowledged, before launching into a lecture
(later retracted) about the "stupidity" of the Cambridge police (while
misrepresenting what had happened).
How could he not have known all the facts? Press secretary
Robert Gibbs mentioned on Fox News Sunday that the Gates matter was one of
the issues the White House press operation had briefed the president on
before the press conference. Numerous accounts of the imbroglio were
available online though the president need only pick up the phone to get
all the information he wants.
He didn't want information. He preferred his comfortable,
This is worth bearing in mind as the country takes a good, hard
look at the president's plans for health care reform. On the day he
announced support for embryonic stem cell research, Mr. Obama also signed an
executive memorandum declaring that in the Obama administration, "we (will)
make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." And yet, his health
care proposals or rather the congressional ideas he has endorsed seem
to skirt facts and evidence at every turn.
We are told, for example, that America needs a "public option"
for health insurance to "keep the insurance companies honest." How would
that work? Would it be the same as keeping Ford honest by having the
government own GM? In both cases, private companies who must make a profit
and pay their expenses will be forced to compete with public entities not
subject to market discipline.
Well, they counter, Medicare has been better at controlling
administrative costs than private insurance companies. Economist Robert Book
examined that claim and concluded that Medicare's per-beneficiary
administrative costs are substantially higher than the administrative costs
of private health plans. Democrats' argument to the contrary is based on
expressing administrative costs as a share of total costs. Book explains:
"If X Insurance Co. insures a healthy 25-year-old and he makes zero claims
in a year, then administrative costs are the only costs." By contrast,
Medicare's population is (by definition) disproportionately elderly,
disabled, or suffering end-of-life medical crises. In fact, Book argues,
Medicare's per-beneficiary costs are rising faster than those of private
insurance companies. And Medicare's costs have risen further and faster than
any of the sunny estimates politicians have offered over the past 40 years.
Medicare spending doubled every four years between 1966 and 1980. Without
adding any further burdens, Medicare has unfunded future obligations of $36
Another proposal contained in some of the Democrats' legislation
is government-approved health insurance. All private insurers would be
required to provide certain benefits or be ineligible to "compete" with the
public option. Has anyone in the Obama administration checked the facts on
this? State governments throughout the nation have been piling mandates on
insurance companies for the past 25 years. The Council for Affordable Health
Insurance keeps track. Forty-five states mandate alcohol- and drug-abuse
treatment. Four require coverage for hormone replacement therapy. Bone
density scans are required by 16 states. Contraceptives must be covered in
29 states, and in vitro fertilization in 15. Forty-four states mandate
coverage of optometrist services; 18 require infant hearing screenings, and
the list goes on. Every mandate increases the price of insurance and makes
it progressively more difficult for the healthy uninsured to find no-frills,
catastrophic coverage. It also increases the cost of each of those "covered"
procedures because when they are paid for by third parties instead of
out-of-pocket by patients, patients become less cost-sensitive.
During the campaign, John McCain proposed to allow interstate
shopping for health insurance, which would at least introduce an element of
competition and cost-consciousness into the system. Obama ran ads
deceptively claiming that this (and other proposals) would cause people to
lose the coverage they already had.
Obama is the last man to talk of keeping others honest.
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