ROSENBLOOM: Fixing medicine: Don’t try, just spy

Uncle Sam wants to snoop on physicians and their patients

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Recently, our government made advances toward promoting our eventual serfdom by initiating a plan through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to spy on doctors. This sounds very much like the plan by the White House and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to report people who spoke out against the president’s health care plan in 2009.

While this most recent spy program - which would have had “mystery shoppers” calling doctors to compare treatment for holders of private insurance to those with Medicaid - has now been put on hold, it underscores the thinking of the current administration. It is further proof that our president is using his power in order to promote his plans for social change and has no qualms about using it to snoop on American citizens. He has shown time and again that freedom is to take a back seat to social engineering and that our Constitution is nothing more than a speed bump, to be passed over quickly or to be bypassed and ignored.

There are many reasons why this idea is a bad one. However, three that come most vividly to mind: 1) Spying by the government on law-abiding doctors sets up an adversarial relationship between the government and doctors and even between patients and doctors; 2) the program would set a frightening precedent for future spying on other individuals or groups and the potential for abuse of constitutional rights; and 3) the administration, as usual, is showing a preference for subterfuge over real reform.

The plan to spy on doctors shows us that the administration considers doctors to be enemies, not partners in the nation’s health care. Doctors would be treated almost like “enemy combatants” because we, for the most part, have opposed reforms to the health care system that will not work and will make health care more expensive and less available. Additionally, the program would set up an antagonistic relationship between doctors and patients in which physicians would never know who the “spies” were and would become naturally suspicious. This would further degrade the patient-doctor relationship - something the administration favors and Medicare has been pursuing for many years.

The potential for violation of constitutional rights is obvious. The government has already set up a system in which banks have become, in a sense, agents of the government, watching customers and reporting “suspicious” transactions. The current administration has shown that it considers it good practice for citizens to report others who do not agree with the administration. Surveillance by government on the law-abiding and the encouragement of citizens to report on each other is an affront to liberty. It has in the past always led to loss of freedom and tyranny. If we do not protest this latest affront vigorously, the administration is likely to use the same tactics on other persons and groups with whom they disagree.

The government has already taken away the basic rights of doctors. Medicare laws are so voluminous, convoluted and complex that physicians are at risk of committing “fraud” by just practicing good medicine. The Federal Aviation Administration got along nicely with about 1,000 pages of regulations - until Sept. 11, 2001, after which it rose to about 35,000 - but Medicare needs more than 130,000 pages. The quantity and complexity of these rules makes it virtually impossible for any well-meaning doctor not to break at least a few of them on a regular basis. This is intentional for then the government can claim Medicare is broke because of “fraud and abuse” instead of admitting the real reason: It’s a program impossible to administer.

If motor vehicle laws were so cumbersome, it would be virtually impossible for people to drive at all without committing traffic offenses. We would have a nation paralyzed by traffic laws and broke from enforcing those laws and paying traffic fines. Similarly as a result of Medicare and Medicaid, we have a medical system paralyzed by regulations. The administration should understand that there are good reasons why doctors find Medicare objectionable. There should be a commitment to correcting the underlying problems rather than spying and creating new ones.

Yet, this latest plan by members of the Obama administration or something just as onerous was to be expected. When they are faced with an opportunity to consider real Medicare solutions, they would rather spy than try. Instead of working toward reform or replacement of inefficient programs with alternatives, they choose to intimidate and increase oppressive regulations to force compliance. Mr. Obama’s campaign promise to review government programs and replace those that are inefficient was nothing more than a smokescreen for social engineering and government control. For Mr. Obama, the truth has been an option that he could not afford. In defense of Obamacare, he claimed that U.S. health care costs were rising faster than those of any other nation, but a look at widely available data showed that to be untrue.

Obamacare as well as other administration actions to “reform” health care, will not save money. They will reduce the quality of medical care and we will end up with a system much more expensive than the one these policies were meant to fix. Medicare is destined for bankruptcy by 2018 and the country is saddled with a debt it can likely never repay.

The president and others in Congress are ignoring an inevitable financial tsunami out of concern for their own personal political futures. Mr. Obama is spying while Washington drowns instead of working toward meaningful solutions. Unfortunately, the actions of his administration prove it to be the greatest enemy of the Constitution today. As a result, we are on the road to serfdom. As Americans, we must protect our freedom or we will lose it. Those of us who are doctors must never stop fighting against policies that threaten our patients.

Dr. Frank S. Rosenbloom is president of the Oregon chapter of Doctors 4 Patient Care.

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