Health-care power to the people

Government-monopoly health care, a bad idea that California voters rejected
in 1994, is back, this time in the Legislature. Senate Bill 840, by Sen.
Sheila Kuehl, poses a threat to the little health freedom that the
government has left Californians.

SB 840 is the unhealthy child of Proposition 186, which voters rejected 73
percent to 27 percent. A year has passed since the Senate passed the bill,
by 25 to 15 along party lines, and the Assembly has taken no significant

Earlier this year, Sen. Kuehl introduced companion financing legislation, SB
1784, to increase personal income taxes–only on the rich, of course–in order
to fund her takeover of the state’s health-care system. A coalition of
self-styled consumer-advocacy groups is preparing to promote the legislation
statewide starting in August.

For those who promote less, not more, government control over health care,
this is an indictment of our inability to get the facts across to the
voters. Simply put, in 2006 it should be career suicide for any politician
to suggest such a catastrophic plan as a “reform” to solve our health-care

Indeed, a complete government takeover has such dire consequences that I was
moved to label it the “Deadly Solution” in an analysis recently published by
the Pacific Research Institute. Sen. Kuehl’s proposal is similar to health
systems in Canada and England, models I used in my analysis. When the state
fails to deliver “universal health care” as promised, it leaves many
patients with almost no opportunity to exercise personal choice in acquiring
health services.

Sen. Kuehl’s bill promises that Californians will be able to go to any
doctor they want. But what if that doctor has moved to Arizona? My analysis
concludes that if we already had Sen. Kuehl’s government health plan, we’d
only have about 71,000 doctors in the state, 23,000 fewer than the actual
figure of 94,000.

Those who enjoy staying in the hospital will like Sen. Kuehl’s system.
Hospital stays would lengthen from an average of four or five days to about
two weeks. This is because technology is less available and hospital
facilities are poorly managed in a government-run system. Perhaps the
cruelest myth about government-run health care is that it improves the
delivery of preventative care.

Lengthy waiting times for treatment would lead to a “deadweight” loss in
human welfare of about $1 billion annually, and about $9 billion of “free”
health care would be wasted by those use unnecessary health services.

Even more precise estimates can be derived by examining the scholarly
literature that compares outcomes in California with Canada or England. The
number of middle-aged women receiving mammograms at least once every two or
three years would drop by about 330,000 in 2010. The number of heart-attack
victims prescribed Beta-blockers, a standard treatment to avoid a second
heart attack, would drop by just under 20,000 in 2010. The number of
cardiovascular patients receiving angioplasty or coronary-artery bypass
grafts (CABGs) would drop by about 60,000 in 2010.

Even worse, the system’s drawbacks will ensure that Californians who need
CABGs would need them four years earlier than they do now: at age 64 versus
68. California does not need such an inhumane system. Nor does Canada, where
the Supreme Court ruled last year that the government monopoly violated
patients’ human rights and ordered the government to reform.

California needs better health care but a massive government monopoly won’t
accomplish that goal. Instead, Californians should demand legislation that
gets health dollars out of the hands of the politicians and into the hands
of the people. The first step is remarkably easy.

Allow Californians to deduct their Health Savings Account (HSA)
contributions and earnings from their taxable income, as the federal
government has done since January 2005. Such a move is simple, inexpensive
and would help Californians immediately. I look forward to Sen. Kuehl’s

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