Topic: Health Care & Welfare

NR Editors on SCHIP

In an editorial released Friday, National Review’s editors highlight the many problems with the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.  That program ostensibly was created for low-income children.  Congress is presently trying to expand the program to cover as many non-poor children – and even non-children – as they can get away with.

I agree with most of the editorial, though I worry about its conclusion:

If the Democrats agree to enact some free-market reforms, it might be worth supporting a modest expansion of S-CHIP. Otherwise, President Bush should make good on his veto threat.

I think one would have throw in some pretty hefty free-market reforms to offset the harm done by expanding SCHIP.  Letting people purchase health insurance out-of-state wouldn’t be enough.  The package would have to include weightier reforms, such as President Bush’s proposed standard deduction for health insurance or large health savings accounts.

I discuss the many problems with SCHIP in an upcoming Cato Institute Briefing Paper.

Bush Waxes Philosophical on Health Care

People sick of the big-government conservatism practiced by the Bush administration might be excited at the headline in today’s Washington Post: “Bush: No Deal On Children’s Health Plan/President Says He Objects On Philosophical Grounds.” But President Bush’s philosophical objection to the proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program is in no way a reversal from his stance that big spending is okay as long as Republicans can take credit.

What philosophy does Bush subscribe to?  Apparently, it’s the philosophy that says the federal government should only expand the welfare state by billions of dollars, instead of tens of billions of dollars: “The president said he objects on philosophical grounds to a bipartisan Senate proposal to boost the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. Bush has proposed $5 billion in increased funding and has threatened to veto the Senate compromise and a more costly expansion being contemplated in the House.” 

Later in the article Bush is quoted as saying, “I think it’s going to be very important for our allies on Capitol Hill to hear a strong, clear message from me that expansion of government in lieu of making the necessary changes to encourage a consumer-based system is not acceptable.”

He also said, “I’m worried that there will be a strong incentive for people to switch from the private sector to the government.” 

If only the president had adopted a similar attitude when he approved a $1.2 trillion expansion of Medicare in 2003 in lieu of consumer-based approaches.

Heck, Why Not Just Burn Him At The Stake?

Just when you thought partisan idiocy in Washington couldn’t get any worse, the House voted last night to cut off the salary of Andrew Biggs, the new Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. No one doubts Biggs’ qualifications for this position. But his sin is having supported proposals to allow younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through individual accounts. Apparently holding a position that Democrats disagree with is now so abhorrent that it disqualifies you from public office.

Get Rid of the Surgeon General’s Office

The Surgeons General have been in the news recently, complaining that they are forced to follow the policies of the Presidents who give them their appointments (gee, what a radical notion). But the real question is why this national-nanny position still exists. As argued in a column for National Review Online, the office of Surgeon General should be retired:

When the position of surgeon general, then called supervising surgeon, was first created in 1781, the appointee actually had something tangible to do. … Since then, the duties of the surgeon general have been demoted so many times he’d barely be a buck private if his title kept up with the changes. In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson took away the responsibility of overseeing the PHS and made the position of surgeon general into one of a glorified adviser who is answerable to the assistant secretary to the secretary of Health and Human Services. … The position of surgeon general today has become mostly one of a bully pulpit to serve as a federally funded advocate for various health causes… Today, the office has a budget of $3 million and the surgeon general is paid close to $200,000 annually. However they have little or no authority to coordinate the federal government’s public health activities. This coordination is already being done by more than 50 different federal offices. …to save the taxpayers’ money, to eliminate yet another unneeded voice in the health-care cacophony, to free up a uniform for the local high school’s Pirates of Penzance performance and to save C-SPAN viewers from any more surgeon-general alumni reunion tours like last week’s hearings — eliminate the Office of Surgeon General today.

Should We Execute Bad Regulators?

I just sent this letter to the editor of the Washington Post:

The lack of outrage about China’s horrific execution of a corrupt food and drug regulator in a recent editorial [“Rough Justice,” July 14] was itself outrageous.
 
Zheng Xiaoyu was put to death for (allegedly) taking bribes that enabled unsafe products to reach the market. The death toll thus far is hundreds of lives lost in China and Panama.
 
Dr. David A. Kessler was commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1991 through 1996. In 1988, researchers at Harvard University had demonstrated that widespread use of aspirin at the onset of a heart attack and daily for 30 days afterward could save 5,000 lives per year in the United States. Yet Dr. Kessler’s FDA refused to let aspirin manufacturers advertise that extremely important information until 1996. That policy resulted in as many as 30,000 unnecessary deaths during Dr. Kessler’s tenure. No one has ever accused Dr. Kessler of taking bribes. But he surely benefited personally from his position and from his aggressive regulatory policies, going on to be named dean of Yale University’s medical school.
 
If Dr. Kessler’s political opponents in the U.S. government had put Dr. Kessler to death for his actions as a regulator, I think the Post would denounce his execution as barbaric. But then why be so blithe about an equally barbaric execution in China?

I’m used to people valuing the lives of the FDA’s Type I victims more than the lives of its Type II victims. But valuing the lives of Type I victims more than the lives of the regulators themselves is a new one by me.

Big-Government Surgeon General

I have written before about how the U.S. surgeon general has become the national nanny, nagging us to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more and never leave home without a condom. James W. Holsinger, a surgeon and cardiologist from Kentucky, is President Bush’s latest nominee for the post. His nomination has been in trouble because of some retrograde comments and writings on homosexuality. But it is also worth noting that Dr. Holsinger testified yesterday he also supports:

  1. Universal health insurance;
  2. Banning pharmaceutical advertising;
  3. Banning the advertising of sugary cereals and other “junk food” on television;
  4. Federal regulation of vending machines in schools; and
  5. Increasing tobacco taxes as part of a campaign to “make America a tobacco-free nation.”

All in all, a perfect national nanny, and another example of President Bush’s big-government conservatism at work.