- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

President Obama has been a fierce and relentless critic of America’s medical care. Indeed, it’s hard to recall when, if ever, he has had anything good to say about our private health care system.

Throughout his presidential campaign and the first six months of his presidency, he has made a practice of attacking just about every sector of our nation’s health care business: Hospitals are inefficient, wasteful and inept. Insurance companies charge way too much and make obscene profits. The pharmaceutical industry overcharges for the drugs it produces, despite research costs in the hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of lives saved and prolonged.

His generic mantra is that our health care system is dysfunctional and that despite all the medical tests and high-tech, diagnostic breakthroughs we’ve invented, we’re not any healthier than before.

Really? Has Mr. Obama missed the medical revolution our health care system has undergone in recent decades? The wonder drugs that keep Americans alive and active; the less invasive microsurgery that shortens hospital stays, cuts costs and hastens recovery; the new PET (positron emission tomography) scans that spot cancers early enough to save lives; and the many health insurance plans for a wide variety of incomes.

How is it that Mr. Obama, who is not a doctor, can have a dismal and critical view of America’s health care system that is so sharply at odds with how our medical leaders see the present system?

Here’s how three former American Medical Association presidents (Drs. Daniel H. Johnson Jr., Donald J. Palmisano and William G. Plested III) described America’s health care last week in a column in The Washington Times: “We have the best health care system in the world. Most Americans live within an hour’s drive of a world-class medical facility filled with expertly trained individuals and state-of-the-art technology delivering medical miracles every day.”

Indeed, despite whatever imperfections and problems there are in our health care system, there is much more to celebrate than to criticize. More than 250 million Americans have health insurance, and every poll shows the overwhelming majority of them are satisfied with the coverage they have and the medical care they receive.

The medical advances over the past several decades have been historic. Consider heart-bypass techniques; the growing transplant technology; and the anti-cholesterol, anti-stroke and anti-cancer drugs that have lengthened survivor rates.

But you won’t hear about this from the Obama White House, which is focused on denouncing the private marketplace system serviced by doctors and nurses and replacing it with a public monopoly controlled and run by the government and an army of federal bureaucrats.

At his news conference last week, Mr. Obama bemoaned once again the costly equipment and tests that hospitals and other medical facilities use to diagnose, treat or otherwise care for their patients — saying they don’t make Americans any healthier.

But these tests and medical scans are critically important to finding out the exact nature of illnesses and thus the best form of treatment. They do, in fact, help make millions of Americans healthier.

So why does Mr. Obama suggest otherwise? Cost is his main motivation because it is the critical part of the government takeover equation. Drive down costs through price regulations, and it may make his trillion-dollar-plus health care plans less expensive.

But how would such price controls, and the rationing that goes with them, affect the health care of all Americans? Mr. Obama answered that question in a revealing, and I think disturbing, remark at last week’s news conference that suggested where Obama Care would take us:

“Our proposals would change incentives so that doctors and nurses are free to give patients the best care, just not the most expensive care,” he said.

But who decides what treatment is too expensive and thus should be denied? Under Mr. Obama’s vision of government health care, that decision would be made by the government, not by doctors.

A pacemaker after age 85? Bypass at age 80? A cancer PET scan at nearly $6,000 a scan? These might not fit in with the price controls that are part and parcel of the legislation being considered in Congress right now.

“At some point in our lives, we’re all patients, and the way to strengthen our system, to control both cost and quality, is to empower the patient,” the three former AMA presidents said. “If the federal government is allowed to expand its role in medicine, our country will see the long waiting lines for care, patients will lose trust in their doctors, and the medical discovery and innovation that has saved and enhanced lives across the country will end.”

America’s health care industry has made great medical strides over the past 10 decades, pushing the average life expectancy rate from 47 years in 1900 to 77 years in 2000. Today it is 75.15 for men and 80.97 for women and climbing.

No doubt some reforms need to be made, especially in applying marketplace incentives to expand health care coverage. But our private medical care system on the whole has worked well.

Maybe now is the time to remember the age-old axiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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