Ponnuru: Stop Socialized Medicine, in All Its Forms

As usual, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru offers sound advice on how Republicans, etc., should approach the Democrats’ health care reforms:

Karl Rove’s WSJ op-ed on health care reflects the thinking of a lot of Republicans. He concludes, “Defeating the public option should be a top priority for the GOP this year. Otherwise, our nation will be changed in damaging ways almost impossible to reverse.” In my view, Rove is defining Republican goals too narrowly.

Congress and the president can expand federal control of the health-care system a great deal without a “public option” (that is, a new government program to provide health insurance to people who choose it). They could set mandatory minimum standards for health insurance, impose price controls, mandate that individuals or employers buy insurance, and so forth. If Republicans say that the public option is the chief defect of liberals’ approach to health care, they may be leaving themselves with no rationale for opposing these steps if the Democrats drop it—which they might just do. (Or they might cosmetically weaken the public option in various ways. They could, for example, set up a “trigger” that brings the option into being only if certain conditions in the health market are met, and then design those conditions so that they will be met.)

The public option appears to be one of the biggest political vulnerabilities of the Democrats’ emerging health-care plan, but it isn’t the only one, and it shouldn’t be targeted to the exclusion of the plan’s other features—or of its general government-first orientation. Republicans ought to be making the case against individual mandates and employer mandates as well, both of which are disguised tax increases.

It isn’t incumbent on Republicans to see that a health-care bill passes Congress. To warrant conservative support, a bill should have no public option—but also no mandates and no price controls. Which is to say: No government-directed health-care system.