Just two days ago, the New York Times heralded on its front page “Health Care Bill Passes First Test on Capital Hill”, a title that belied the fact that the health care bill as currently structured has almost no likelihood of becoming law. Moderate Democrat Senators have no stomach for it, because their constituencies have no stomach for it.
This morning’s Wall Street Journal’s front page headline signals the more likely path for the bill “Budget Blow for Health Plan”, a story that the New York Times has relegated to page 12 (page 3 of the National news section of the paper).
When the Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) contradicts the statements of Congressmen/women and Senators, trouble is brewing, and that is exactly what Douglas Elmendorf has done.
This is so reminiscent of 1993, the last time a massive attempt was made by the Executive branch of the Government to foist a national health care plan on the country. Back then also, it was the CBO director who informed Congress that the bill would cost far more than the pollyanish estimates espoused by Democrats in Congress and the White House.
Maybe with this most recent news, it is not so brave of me to predict that the current health care bill will not pass both Houses of Congress and will not be signed into law. Of course the cost is a key variable, but behind the inability of the Government to control costs is a very significant fact – the Government is unwilling to confront tort reform head on. The plaintiffs’ lawyers lobby must be the most powerful in the country – perhaps not surprising, given the fact that over half of the Senators are lawyers, more than one third of Congressmen are lawyers and the President himself is a lawyer.
It is true that medical technology has done much to both increase productivity in medicine, but it also has acted to increase costs. Much of the testing, imaging, retesting, and second and even third opinion requirements are done in order to provide defense backup in the event of a lawsuit against a doctor.
Time was when the priest/minister/rabbi was the most revered person in the town, with the local house-calling doctor right on his heels as number two.
Gone are those days.
Today doctors are obliged to pay exorbitant insurance premiums to protect themselves from ambulance chasing, greedy plaintiffs’ attorneys who advertise shamelessly on radio, billboard and television. Until and unless our Government – on the national level – passes a seriously effective tort reform legislation and the President signs it into law, there is no way Congress should even broach the subject of a national health care plan.
It is their moral obligation.
Patricia W. Chadwick has had more than 35 years of investment experience. She is the founder and president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm that provides advice on financial markets and global economics.