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Michael Steele in a Nutshell, a Cracked Nutshell

August 26, 2009

The following essay by RNC Chairman Michael Steele appeared in the Op-Ed section of the Washington Post on Monday, August 24, 2009. I have placed the essay in block quotes to set it apart from my gloss.


GOP Principles for Health Care
By Michael S. Steele
Monday, August 24, 2009

Americans are engaged in a critical debate over reforming our health-care system. While Republicans believe that reforms are necessary, President Obama’s plan for a government-run health-care system is the wrong prescription. The Democrats’ plan will hurt American families, small businesses and health-care providers by raising care costs, increasing the deficit, and not allowing patients to keep a doctor or insurance plan of their choice. Furthermore, under the Democrats’ plan, senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed.

Steele notes that it will cost more to insure more people, and makes no suggestion as to how the goal of covering the 47 million Americans currently uninsured might be accomplished. Steele forgets what Obama has said repeatedly: that according to the proposed legislation, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors. That is why Republicans support a Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights, which we are introducing today, to ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care. We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation’s senior citizens.

Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not wish to harm senior citizens, Steele observes.

The Republican Party’s contract with seniors includes tenets that Americans, regardless of political party, should support. First, we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of “health-insurance reform.” As the president frequently, and correctly, points out, Medicare will go deep into the red in less than a decade. But he and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program to fund his health-care experiment. The president also plans to cut hospital payments and Medicare Advantage, all of which will mean fewer treatment options for seniors. These types of “reforms” don’t make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.

Steele acknowledges that Medicare costs are out-of-control, but argues that the president should not attempt to cut them, since the resulting $500 billion would go toward helping other people receive coverage. The Republican party’s contract with seniors can be broken only if costs are cut in order to fund programs that Steele and his fellow Republicans approve of (presumably, more wars or tax cuts for the wealthy).

Second, we need to prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors. The government-run health-care experiment that Obama and the Democrats propose will give seniors less power to control their own medical decisions and create government boards that would decide what treatments would or would not be funded. Republicans oppose any new government entity overruling a doctor’s decision about how to treat his or her patient.

Steele not only supports socialized medicine for senior citizens, he proposes that the government fund any and all procedures requested by doctors, without regard for inefficiency and waste.

Simply put, we believe that health-care reform must be centered on patients, not government.

Steele believes that, in order to reform the government’s health care policies, we should not focus on the government.

Third, we need to outlaw any effort to ration health care based on age. Obama has promoted a program of “comparative effectiveness research” that he claims will be used only to study competing medical treatments. But this program could actually lead to government boards rationing treatments based on age. For example, if there are going to be only so many heart surgeries in a given year, the Democrats figure government will get more bang for its buck if more young and middle-aged people get them.

Steele opposes rationing based on age, by which he means old age. What works for seniors (socialized medicine) does not work for the rest of the country. It is unacceptable for Medicare to rationed, but Steele has no suggestion as to how to cover the 47 million Americans who at present receive the worst of all forms of rationing: no health care coverage at all. Steele worries about government discriminating against seniors, but conveniently ignores the fact that private insurers already discriminate against young and middle-aged people on the basis that they are likely to need care – precisely in order to increase profits.

Fourth, we need to prevent government from dictating the terms of end-of-life care. Many of the most significant costs of care come in the last six months of a patient’s life, and every American household must consider how to treat their loved ones. Obama’s government-run health “reform” would pay for seniors’ meetings with a doctor to discuss end-of-life care. While nonthreatening at first, something that is quite normal for a family to do becomes troublesome when the government gets involved. Seniors know that government programs that seem benign at first can become anything but. The government should simply butt out of conversations about end-of-life care and leave them to seniors, their families and their doctors.

Unlike medical procedures, which Steele has argued should be covered under Medicare with no questions asked, discussions between doctors and their patients pertaining to a specific class of said procedures (end-of-life) are to be strictly excluded for coverage under Medicare. While the Republican party’s contract with seniors requires the former, the latter is to be understood as an intrusive government program (“Seniors know that government programs that seem benign at first can become anything but”). In short, government should “butt out of conversations about end-of-life care,” but dutifully cover the procedures resulting from such conversations (“Republicans oppose any new government entity overruling a doctor’s decision about how to treat his or her patient”).

Finally, we need to protect our veterans by preserving Tricare and other benefit programs for military families. Democrats recently proposed raising costs for the Tricare for Life program that many veterans rely on for treatment. Republicans support our veterans and believe that America should honor our promises to them.

As with seniors, Steele recognizes the benefits of socialized medicine for veterans.

Barack Obama campaigned on “post-partisanship.” As president, however, Obama has shown that he is beholden to his party’s left-wing ideologues. It’s not too late for him to honor his pledges for bipartisan health-care reform. Reversing course and joining Republicans in support of health care for our nation’s senior citizens is a good place to start. Doing so will help him restart the reform process to give Americans access to low-cost, high-quality health care.

Obama is beholden to left-wing ideologues for trying to cut Medicare costs deemed wasteful, despite the fact that wasteful government spending has traditionally been a right-wing concern. By reversing course, Obama will fully embrace socialized medicine for seniors, now apparently endorsed by Republicans. As the result of guaranteeing socialized medicine to seniors, and making no effort to curb the ever rising costs of Medicare, Obama will somehow help the rest of us gain access to low-cost, high-quality care.

The writer is chairman of the Republican National Committee.

God help us.


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