Friday, June 10, 2011

Choice?

David Brooks argues that the future of health care comes down to "centralized technocratic" planning or a a free market solution. Health care, he sagely observes, is "phenomenally complicated," then goes on to inform us that providers have more information than patients and that insurance companies "are rapacious and are not in the business of optimizing care."

Brooks then compares what he calls the Affordable Care Act's concentration of cost-control power into a board of fifteen experts with the Republican laissez-faire model, which opposes top-down decision making (at least from the government). Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to finance U.S. health care with a "premium support system" would replace fee-for-service medicine (in fact, it would not):

Seniors would select from a menu of insurance plans. Their consumer choices would drive a continual, bottom-up process of innovation. Providers could use local knowledge to meet specific circumstances.
Brooks writes with great confidence that this will happen -- presumably due to the Magic of the Market -- without explaining exactly how or why anyone should buy this argument.

Jonathan Cohn points out that the Republican plan has a track record, and that it's not especially encouraging. He argues that Ryancare would effectively eliminate health insurance for elders and summons the 1959 congressional testimony of retired autoworker John Barclay:
We retired workers are very proud of being citizens of the greatest country in the world, but … we cannot think it is the greatest possible country when about 65 percent of the aged do not have any insurance to deal with their needs for hospitalization and medical care. Without such insurance, the retired person must pretty much exhaust any savings he has before he can get free hospitalization. This is a constant source of worry. Many of my acquaintances will not visit a doctor for minor illness because they have no money to pay for drugs. After they exhaust their savings they go on welfare to get medical aid, but then, in many cases, it is too late.
The real difference between Democrats and Republicans on health care is not, Cohn writes, between an idealized free market and Stalinist central planning. Rather,
The most salient difference is that Democrats would preserve Medicare's fundamental guarantee of health benefits at affordable prices. Republicans would not.
Meanwhile, Ezra Klein contests Brooks' claim that
...if 15 Washington-based experts really can save a system as vast as Medicare through a process of top-down control, then this will be the only realm of human endeavor where that sort of engineering actually works.
It happens all the time, Klein writes: Around the world, government-regulated and -planned health care has a excellent track record for controlling costs without sacrificing outcomes.

At The Economist, M.S. dismisses Brooks as well, and focuses on the distortion brought about by the marketing and advertising of drugs and devices. 

As I've written before, Ryancare substitutes ideology for honesty. Brooks sips from this cup of Kool-Aid regularly, rarely if ever pointing out that Ryancare is all in on controlling costs by shifting them to elders. If that's what the country wants, then it's what we should do. But how about being up front about the choice?