Health Care Reform: A Link Round-Up

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 22, 2009

Bobby Jindal–being a policy wonk in general, and a health care policy wonk in particular–highlights the three major shortcomings in the health care bills floating around Capitol Hill, and the Obama Administration’s own stated preferences for reform, and offers suggestions on how to improve the reform process. If we actually realize that getting health care reform done right is more important than getting it done quickly, we might place ourselves in a position where we benefit from his advice.

Meanwhile, if Dick Cheney meeting with the CIA when the former was Vice President served to create a chilling effect in the gathering and analysis of intelligence, why, pray tell, shouldn’t Barack Obama’s meeting with Douglas Elmendorf, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, be similarly denounced for its chilling effect-creating ways? Of course, I think that people should stop being such shrinking violets about the issue of meetings; the Republic will not fall if Obama meets with Elmendorf, just as it did not fall and chilling was not put into effect when Cheney met with the CIA. However, if you denounced the Cheney-CIA meeting, then you certainly ought to denounce the Obama-CBO meeting, especially given that the latter meeting involved a party outside of the Executive Branch, having its Director brought into the White House for potentially bone-crushing amounts of arm-twisting applied by the President.

Speaking of Cheneyesque tactics . . .

Reporting from Washington — Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the Secret Service asking about visits from 18 executives representing health insurers, drug makers, doctors and other players in the debate. The group wants the material in order to gauge the influence of those executives in crafting a new healthcare policy.

The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the “presidential communications privilege.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said it would file suit against the Obama administration as early as today. The group already has sued the administration over its failure to release details about visits from coal industry executives.

I completely side with the Administration on this issue, but remember that the former Vice President got pilloried by people on Barack Obama’s side of the political divide for this precise, same behavior. The irony is awesome to behold.

Meanwhile, it would seem that the President is going to try to ensure that Kent Conrad appears in the White House’s visitor logs as little as possible:

Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) has emerged as one of the most effective Democratic critics of President Obama’s agenda, despite their close friendship and the fact that Conrad was one of Obama’s earliest supporters for the White House.

Conrad has dealt significant setbacks to Obama’s biggest policy proposals: healthcare reform, the budget and a controversial climate change plan.

Perhaps his most noticeable action came last week when he invited Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, to testify about the long-term budgetary implications of healthcare proposals under consideration by Democrats.

Under questioning from Conrad, Elmendorf delivered a bombshell, testifying that healthcare proposals drafted in the House and by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee would not curb healthcare spending, as Obama has envisioned, but instead add to federal spending.

“It was devastating,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said of the effect of Elmendorf’s assessment.

Conrad said he suspected Elmendorf would give the answer he did, but wanted to hear it so that his colleagues would understand the real impact of the legislation they are considering.

“I did not know what his answer would be; I suspected that’s what his answer would be,” Conrad said. “I suspected that was the answer but I didn’t know for sure because I’m not an expert on the House bill.”

More like this, please–Democratic complaints that Conrad is not helping the White House advance its agenda notwithstanding. John Stossel will likely be left off of the invitation list as well, though the White House could do worse than to have him come in and have a chat with the President:

Politicians and bureaucrats clearly have no idea how complicated markets are. Every day people make countless tradeoffs, in all areas of life, based on subjective value judgments and personal information as they delicately balance their interests, needs and wants. Who is in a better position than they to tailor those choices to best serve their purposes? Yet the politicians believe they can plan the medical market the way you plan a birthday party.

Leave aside how much power the state would have to exercise over us to run the medical system. Suffice it say that if government attempts to control our total medical spending, sooner or later, it will have to control us.

Also leave aside the inevitable huge cost of any such program. The administration estimates $1.5 trillion over 10 years with no increase in the deficit. But no one should take that seriously. When it comes to projecting future costs, these guys may as well be reading chicken entrails. In 1965, hospitalization coverage under Medicare was projected to cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual price tag was $66 billion.

[. . .]

Like the politicians, most people are oblivious to F.A. Hayek’s insight that the critical information needed to run an economy — or even 15 percent of one — doesn’t exist in any one place where it is accessible to central planners. Instead, it is scattered piecemeal among millions of people. All those people put together are far wiser and better informed than Congress could ever be. Only markets — private property, free exchange and the price system — can put this knowledge at the disposal of entrepreneurs and consumers, ensuring the system will serve the people and not just the political class.

This is no less true for medical care than for food, clothing and shelter. It is profit-seeking entrepreneurship that gave us birth control pills, robot limbs, Lasik surgery and so many other good things that make our lives longer and more pain free.

The political system regularly fools itself into thinking that it knows all, and sees all. It enacts policies based on this premise. Disaster ensues. We learn anew that knowledge–as Hayek and Stossel point out–is dispersed, rather than being concentrated. Then we forget anew that information, which leads to the political system fooling itself into thinking that it knows all, and sees all, and enacting policies based on this premise.

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