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by Pearl Hahn

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii joined Conservatives for Patients’ Rights in a tour to alert the public about the dangers of more government control in health care. Several states (including Hawaii) have tried government-run health care and suffered enormous costs, and their experiences should serve as a valuable lesson for what not to do at the national level. Policy experts from Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, and Maine discussed the failures of their state-run health systems during the week-long public education campaign.
Michael Tanner, health care policy expert at the Cato Institute, spoke about the failure of the individual and employer mandate in Massachusetts. Although the state achieved a greater number of covered citizens, this was accomplished using heavy subsidies, not from compliance with the mandate. The subsidies were extended up to three times the federal poverty line. Strict guidelines set for private insurance companies also led to a drop in private coverage. Tanner reported that patients are now experiencing longer waiting times for care.
Dr. Eric Fruits from Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute shed light on the negative effects of expanding Medicaid in the state. Costs are shared between the state’s general funds and federal Medicaid funds in a 40-60 split. Dubbed the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), OHP resulted in a prioritized, rationed system in which the legislature chooses and ranks available services. Denial of treatment for serious illnesses have been reported while the uninsured rate remains higher than the national average at 16 percent.
Brian Lapps, former director of Tennessee’s state-run plan, TennCare, described TennCare’s unsustainable spiraling costs. TennCare was launched as an insurance program designed to cover the uninsured through managed care. Running on the platform to “fix TennCare,” Democrat Phil Bredesen became governor in 2002, taking the helm from Don Sundquist, who had proposed an unpopular $400 million tax increase to keep TennCare from imploding. Under Bredesen, from 2000 to 2007, medical costs rose by 40 percent while payments to doctors were cut by 30 percent and to hospitals by 60 percent. Lapps warned that TennCare has been a disaster and will be a disaster for the country.
Tarren Bragdon at the Maine Heritage Center shared the shortcomings of Dirigo, Maine’s universal health insurance program. Since launching in 2005, only 3 percent of the uninsured has been covered while $155 million in new taxes have been piled on Maine residents, including taxes on private insurance. Despite the high costs, the state rolled back benefits while raising premiums by 74 percent.
I had the opportunity to share with audiences Hawaii’s experience with our universal children’s program, Keiki Care, and the Prepaid Health Care Act, or the state employer mandate. People were not surprised to hear that people took advantage of Keiki Care, in which system abuse and high costs brought about its termination after only seven months. Lawmakers at the state and federal level continue to cite Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act as a model to be followed though our uninsured population has nearly doubled since the 80s.
Nothing is as expensive as free health care. Time and time again, government plans have been underfunded, poorly managed, and attracted the most expensive and high-risk enrollees who would be better served under a safety net. Fortunately, states do not have the power to print money to bankroll their imprudent ventures. Every state has drawn the line somewhere; Hawaii terminated Keiki Care and Oregon turned to rationing. Unlike the states, though, the federal government does not appear to be interested in balancing its budget. Are we to believe that an entity that bails out auto companies and banks will not resort to printing money to fund a complete takeover of health care? As usual, the only ones who stand to benefit from national reform are bureaucrats who have no desire to actually improve health care quality or lower costs. The rest of us will be saddled with ever-expanding deficits enough to make anyone sick.