Jim Cooper is a smart man and a conscientious member of Congress. There are a number of policy issues where we don’t see eye to eye, but I have always respected his intelligence and believed he was dedicated to doing what’s best, as he saw it, for the 5th District of Tennessee and for the United States.
That’s why his vote on health care “reform” last weekend, and especially his public statement explaining that vote, are so disappointing. Cooper knows as much about our health care system and how badly it’s broken as any member of Congress. He should have been a leader in truly reshaping the system, eliminating its flawed foundations, and reforming the system to create a new paradigm based on personal responsibility, transparency about costs, real options for patients in choosing among health care options, and real competition among providers — which would lead inevitably to lower costs, greater efficiency and higher quality.
Instead he participated in what is essentially a charade that continues the decades-long practice of hiding the true cost of health care from the American people, perpetuating a fantasy world in which “everything will be taken care of, so don’t worry, your personal health choices don’t matter, Father Government will take care of it.” The new “reform” bill leaves in place all the existing players, all the existing ill-advised tax breaks, cumbersome bureaucratic arrangements, and endless paper-pushing people and processes who add no value, only cost and confusion, to the system.
Cooper’s statement explaining his vote is a model of political disingenuousness that makes it clear he understands this but has chosen to ignore it, presumably for political reasons. He touts the fact that lots of hospitals, doctors and medical organizations favor the bill. He doesn’t mention it, but so do the insurance companies. Why might this be? It’s not hard to figure out, and it’s not possible that Cooper doesn’t know. All this bill does is keep the current system and players in place and throw more money at the system, as well as requiring that everyone become a customer. The American taxpayer pays the bill so that insurance companies can have many more paying customers, and hospitals and other providers can dramatically reduce their biggest financial problem: bad debt. Nothing really changes except that the burden on productive America goes up astronomically, incentives to increase utilization remain in place, and all the money-sucking, soul-numbing bureaucratic nonsense that characterizes the current system remains.
What’s different is that we’ve taken a giant step toward the Californication of the United States, spending money we don’t have and making promises we can’t keep. Bankruptcy looms. Cooper knows this. He has in the past been an eloquent spokesman for fiscal responsibility. The Wall Street Journal correctly summarized the situation when it said Cooper’s health care vote(s) have rendered all of his past statements and work toward increasing the fiscal responsibility of the federal government “irrelevant.”
It is all a terrible shame, because he knows better and could have, should have, done everything in his power to push the process in a different direction. How might that have looked?
Let’s start with a quiz. What does a gallon of milk cost at Kroger? What about if you go to a convenience store instead of a supermarket? Do you pay attention to price differences, sales, specials and the like? All of us do to some extent. It’s our money, and if we spend less, we’ll have more for other things. What does this mean to producers and retailers? Obviously, they must find efficiencies and keep prices as low as possible — at the risk of losing your business.
Would your behavior change if the federal government paid your food bill and if it was essentially impossible for you to find out the price of any of the items in the store? Well, that’s how it works in health care. Somebody else pays the bill and nobody knows what anything costs. Would it surprise you to learn that the very same procedure, a CAT scan, varies as much as $1,000 in price at two hospitals in Nashville within two miles of each other? How about the same drug varying more than 100 percent in price depending on where you fill your prescription? It’s true.
That’s the completely unsustainable world Jim Cooper voted to preserve. A world basically devoid of personal responsibility, market competition, price transparency and well-informed free people making decisions about matters important to them and their families. Is it possible to devise a health care system that embraces these American values and also gives every American access to affordable health care and protects families from financial disaster caused by unforeseen health care costs? I believe that it is.
Check back Tuesday morning for my solution.
Crom Carmichael is CEO of Nashai Biotech in Nashville. He is a longtime political commentator for various local media outlets.