Take the red pill, Mr. President

Washington Examiner | David Freddoso | July 23, 2009

“If there’s a blue pill and a red pill, and the blue pill is half the price of the red pill and works just as well, why not pay half price for the thing that’s going to make you well?” — President Obama

In last night’s press conference, President Obama seemed to be reliving that famous scene from The Matrix. The main character is offered a choice between a red pill that makes him see reality for what it is, and a blue pill that allows him to continue living in a pleasant world of illusions.

Last night, President Obama appeared to have taken the blue pill before his press conference. How else could he convince himself, the Congressional Budget Office’s numbers notwithstanding, that his health care reform bill will not increase both health care costs and the federal deficit? How else can he continue to make the argument that a massive expansion of government spending on health care will solve rather than exacerbate the current problems? How can he repeatedly express such absolute certainty that such a measure will easily pay for itself several times over in the long run? Why can he not at least acknowledge the possibility that it will become a costly and useless trillion-dollar boondoggle that follows in the footsteps of his stimulus package?

With his example of the red and blue pills, and another about whether a child’s hypothetical tonsils should be removed, President Obama unwittingly presents the real problem with his plan for reform. Here is a well-meaning government official who so fails to grasp the problem in health care that he can present such absurd oversimplifications and suggest that this sort of thing is the real problem — doctors simply lack the common sense to make obvious medical decisions. President Obama wants us to solve this problem by putting himself and other government officials in charge of rescuing medicine from the medical profession. If medical doctors with a decade of schooling cannot distinguish between good cures and ineffective ones that must be discontinued, then by gosh, we’re lucky that the good folks from the government can.

President Obama thus frames the issue as a false choice between doing nothing at all and handing over to Washington complicated, case-by-case medical decisions that cannot possibly be legislated or dictated by government.

This transfer of medical authority to the bureaucracy is intended to curb costs. Unfortunately, there is exactly one thing that government can do to control costs in health care: it can insist on paying below cost. This shifts the cost burden to private insurance companies, which in turn pass along higher premiums to their patients. This is what government-run Medicare does today for many treatments, including cancer. Government will do more of this kind of “saving” when it assumes greater responsibility for funding citizens’ health care, particularly if a government-option health care plan is established.

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