Monday, October 18, 2004

Dennis Byrne refuses to see the parasites in our health industry

Chicago Tribune former-columnist and now public-affairs-consultant Dennis Byrne has another government-is-bad piece in today's Trib.

The column (here) is about health, and wouldn't you know it, the parasitic for-profit insurance companies never merit a mention. Why are costs so high? Why, it's because we *use* so much health care. It's not because the middlemen for-profit insurance companies skim off billions. It's not because 60 cents on every dollar is spent on paperwork chasing after payment from the insurance companies. Nope. It's because of medical malpractice and defensive medicine, and because we want it all.

The good part of the column came at the end, when he makes the point that we should separate out catastrophic health insurance from regular maintenance. Why insurance has to cover every cost is beyond me. Just like car insurance doesn't cover the cost of tune-ups and oil changes (but does cover the cost of a crash), so too should health insurance not cover the cost of check-ups and physicals, but should cover the cost of cancer or a car crash.

The cheapest way to do that, however, is for the government to cover all of us with the same basic catastrophic insurance, which we would all pay for through a general tax (like the existing 1.5% payroll Medicare tax).

That's no good for Dennis Byrne, who has this to say about the role of government and saving money:

"We might even reduce costs by cutting back on the expensive research and development required to develop new medicines, procedures and technologies. We could do that by taking the profit motive out of that research, and handing those responsibilities and costs directly over to the government. (Please, let's not.)


Good comeback. Trouble is, the government *already* pays most of the costs of research. Unfortunately, the drug companies then get the benefit of that public research, develop a drug, get a ridiculously long patent for it (17 years, I understand, before generics can come to market), run those inane commercials for it (Xybran. . . .so you feel better. Ask your doctor about Xybran. It's a pill you take. . . .to feel better. Xybran!), charge crazy-high prices and then make a fortune.

Dennis Byrne doesn't recognize the crucial role government plays in bringing health care costs to an affordable level. That's a huge lapse in judgment from an often insightful writer, and I think he's got an ideological blind spot.

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