Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Drop the slogans and debate the facts about health care


The national debate that has begun on health care reform has got to change fast.

If the mindless and mind-numbing public discussions that have occurred so far continue, nothing will change and Americans will be left with the highest health costs in the world for outcomes that are poorer than countries that spend far less.

Even before committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives began to draft legislation, opponents of health-care reform had dragged out the same tired slogans that defeated reform during the Clinton administration.

"Socialized medicine" is still the most popular, with talking heads and columnists repeating it ad nauseam.

"Rationed care" is another favorite canard. Both slogans are calculated to frighten citizens with a vision of a faceless Big Brother who would deprive them or family members of life-saving treatments.

Supporters of the status quo—unfettered annual increases in health-care costs with no oversight—are the same elected officials who told Americans that Wall Street could regulate itself.

Instead of slogans, the debate needs to be driven by facts like the ones that show that regions of the U.S. where health care is expensive have no better outcomes for patients than cheaper regions.

It needs to be driven by data that show that doctors and patients need more information to make smart choices.

Good reform will bring more science, in the form of better data about what works, to the "art" of medicine.

Good reform will replace profit-driven treatments with proven and cost-effective ones. It will look to cost-conscious medical business models that exist at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic—models that could eventually disappear if profligate providers prevail.

The alternatives to reform are grim: steeply higher costs, declining insurance benefits and fewer insured as businesses are forced to reduce or drop health insurance altogether.

Congress needs to get this right.

Correction

We were happy to learn last week that about 18 months ago, the Blaine County Commissioners adopted requirements for fire-safe roofs in new construction, 30-foot clear zones around homes and requirements that remodeled rooftops be constructed of fire-safe materials. These came in the wake of the Castle Rock Fire. We applaud the new standards and regret the error in asserting that the county had failed to adopt fire-safe standards. The new standards had not been reported previously.




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