- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Conservatives from Washington, D.C. to Palm Beach, Fla., have been busy trying to redefine our national debate on health care. They act like they want to turn it into a referendum on whether we need a cure for foot-in-mouth disease. Enough, already. There are important issues at stake here.

Like whether the system is working. AARP’s most recent bulletin has this intriguing observation: “The number of patients who die each year from hospital errors is equal to four jumbo jets crashing each week.” If true (you have to consider the source), that means we have a real problem.

Notwithstanding all the blather you hear from the regulators at the Department of Transportation, we have an extraordinarily safe and reliable air transportation system. Why? It’s not just because of the good folks at the Federal Aviation Administration, even though they help occasionally. It is primarily because of the fact that we have a mostly deregulated airline industry, where consumers have real choices. Every airline CEO knows that if his company gets a bad reputation for safety, it is curtains for the company. Think Air Florida, think Pan Am.

So it has become commonplace for the airline industry to carry its passengers hundreds of billions of miles every year without a single fatality or serious injury. That is a really good thing. No one in their right mind would want to run the risks AARP is talking about.

Unlike airlines, our hospital system is in danger of becoming a government-mandated, -regulated, -funded, -subsidized and -sponsored monument to the inefficiency of big-government solutions. The more Washington gets involved, the less efficient the system becomes. In an effort to ensure that no one gets left out, government eventually will make sure that no one gets good care. The irony is that the Supreme Court will soon decide whether we have any choice in this. What a farce. As competitive markets always remind us, choice is all that matters.

While Rome is burning, conservatives are fiddling with women’s contraceptives. Those apparently are going to be insured because the left considers them to be preventive care, which must mean (barring a legitimate medical need) pregnancy is a disease to them. They like to call it insurance, even though there is nothing contingent about sexual activity. What they are doing is asking health insurers to subsidize normal human behavior. And then they are shocked, just shocked, that health insurance is becoming so expensive.

At some point, someone who is actually ill will go without needed health care because his premiums are subsidizing healthy human activity. That is apparently the way the left thinks. It is now the way government approaches health care.

All this largess, of course, is brought to you by a government whose balance sheet reads like a Greek tragedy and whose income statement is even worse - more than 40 cents of every dollar it now spends is borrowed. The Congress that passed the health care mandates could not even pass a budget, since it was spending money it did not have so fast it could not add it all up. Undoubtedly, when government finishes doing to health care what it did to real estate, it will go boldly where it has gone before and bail out everyone all over again. It is just paper money, after all. Call it the “what, me worry” school of fiscal policy.

Conservatives need to keep these issues in some perspective. The testimony of a law student, whether right or wrong, is not important. What matters is life and liberty, the pursuit of sanity and government’s encroachment on all three. Let’s focus on that for a change.

Warren L. Dean Jr. is a partner at Thompson Coburn and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center.