- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

For years, the Democrats said they would create a prescription drug benefit. Then the Republicans actually did it, and people like it. Now Democrats have a new vision. They look into the part they hate — the doughnut hole — and see the Clinton health-care program nesting there.

You remember Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan, don’t you? It was an idea whose time came in the early days of her husband’s administration, and it looked so unstoppable that plenty of Republicans responded by trying to avoid being run down.

Well, it was unstoppable, until real people got a look at what it would mean in their lives. President and Mrs. Clinton had constructed a system that blended the cheerfulness of the driver’s license bureau with the efficiency of the postal service. People wanted health care, all right, but not that kind, and the unstoppable stopped.

Today, people who used to love the Clinton plan and used to hate the Republican prescription drug bill now say the drug program needs fixing. They used to say it was too confusing, that nobody would sign up, that the rich would get richer and the sick would get sicker. It turned out people were not confused at all. Millions signed up, nobody got rich, and sick people got their medicines at sometimes dramatic savings.

So now the critics explain patiently that a working system propelled by free-market competition should be deconstructed into one that is run by the government, and the Veterans Administration is the new model for ideal health care.

Here’s something real people should know about that idea. Making Medicare like the VA means your doctor will work for the federal government, your hospital will be run by federal appointees, prescriptions are from mail order, not the corner drug store, and 3,000 medicines currently covered won’t be on the government list at all. That’s the way it works at the VA.

If you want the government to take over and run America’s health care, this is your kind of program. Some sincerely believe it’s just the best, but I don’t want sick Americans made to rely on bureaucrats and mail-order houses instead of neighborhood pharmacists. And I’m not willing to fix something that isn’t broken by turning it into Mrs. Clinton’s dream come true.

Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, is ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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