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Paying Twice for Government Health Care

Opinion Editorial
August 30, 2001

By Linda Gorman

The special legislative session scheduled for September 20th vividly illustrates the disordered priorities that have resulted from the politicization of health care. According to a July press release from the governor’s office, Governor Owens wants to divert $1.6 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund’s Cessation and Research Programs to “help optimize services to approximately 50 women diagnosed each year through the early detection program who currently may have to wait for potential life-saving treatment.” In the political calculus, breast cancer victims deserve tax-funded treatment. No word about treating the low-income men and women dying from other kinds of disease.
The 2001-2002 Appropriations Report from the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee shows that the state’s operating budget is $13,030,000,000, roughly $4,300,000,000 of which is already slated for human services and health care spending. In 2000, Colorado’s population was 4,301,261. This means that every year every man, woman, and child in the state already writes a check for $1,000 to pay for helping those the state considers unable to help themselves.

Local non-profits think this isn’t enough. According to the Daily Camera, “Kelli Fritts, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said it is wrong now for the state to take money from cancer prevention to use for treatment.” Is telling people to stop smoking really more important than curing them?

Why aren’t charities aiding those 50 women? Many “health” non-profits specifically rule out helping the needy with their medical bills, preferring instead to spend the bulk of their funds on advocacy. The Colorado Trust was established in 1985 to “promote and enhance the health and well-being of the people of Colorado.” While low-income women with cancer were apparently going without prompt treatment, in 1999 the Trust used the income from its assets of $413,454,770 to fund such gaseous projects as studying ways to improve the quality of life in communities, studying health education in grades K-12, and studying violence prevention.

The Trust also funded the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, a non-profit that serves the underserved by hiring Felix Burdine & Associates, a slick Pennsylvania public relations firm with ties to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to promote a revival of ClintonCare in Colorado. Unbelievably, the Coalition’s materials mention Canada as possible model for Colorado health care.

Canadian women can wait months for a simple pap smear, and months more for cancer treatment. Under Canada’s “universal” system, nearly 10% of the emergency room patients at one Vancouver hospital were uninsured. Canadians who can afford it come to the United States for health care. Objective observers who have studied the Canadian system, and who value quality health care for individuals, generally agree with the Vancouver based-Fraser Institute. It flatly states that Canadian health care is “a system in collapse.”

With experiments around the world showing that centrally planned health systems are always and everywhere a disaster, it comes as no surprise that cancer treatment for low-income women was apparently overlooked during the 10-year reorganization of state health care begun by Governor Romer. With over $5,000,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and equivalent amounts in state “in-kind” funds, Romer officials embraced a central planning model complete with capacity constraints and price controls. They promised that the new system would reduce costs and generally improve Colorado’s health care. Predictably, their reforms have coincided with increasing fragility in the public system’s “safety net,” an exodus of private insurers due to over-regulation, longer waits for care, personnel shortages, and rising costs.

Since the reorganization, state government pays for “mental health counseling” for girls who break up with their boyfriends and stop by school-based health care centers for “depression,” but not, it seems, for prompt treatment for low-income women with cancer.

The press release says that treating a case of cervical cancer costs roughly $26,000. It also says that the money will be used to “optimize treatment” for people who might “have to wait” for it. If reducing waiting times is the issue, then presumably those 50 women already have their treatment funded. In that case, the proper model would be interest-only payments on a loan accelerating the payout. Even at credit card rates of 22%, borrowing $1,600,000 for a year would cost taxpayers about $352,000, a lot less than the $1,600,000 being demanded. Given that programs are seldom really cut, it seems that taxpayers are being asked to pay twice. Who, one has to wonder, gets the other $1,600,000?

Finding $1,600,000 in a total state budget of $13,030,000,000 is like finding $4.91 in an annual household budget of $40,000. In a life and death situation like cancer treatment, most American households could instantly reorder their spending priorities to come up with the five bucks. Government can’t, with the result that government health care costs twice as much.

Medical Savings Accounts, anyone?

Linda Gorman, an Independence Institute Senior Fellow, wrote this article for the Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; https://i2i.org/

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to: Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Parkway, Suite 185, Golden, CO 80401. Phone (303) 279-6536 or FAX to (303) 279-4176; e-mail is webmngr@i2i.org