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Luetkemeyer's health care message raises many questions

Thursday, October 1, 2009 | 2:06 p.m. CDT; updated 4:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 1, 2009

If you’ve been following the national health care debate through all its Congressional twists and turns, you were probably as pleased as I was to get in the mail last week a message from our congressman.

The headline left no doubt where Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer stands: “NO Government Takeover of YOUR Health Care.” Fair enough, I thought. But then I thought: Wait a minute, Congressman. Are you suggesting an end to Medicare? That’s my health care. I can’t believe he’d really want to privatize the government insurance program that covers more than 20 million of us old folks, with lower administrative costs and higher customer satisfaction scores than commercial insurance.

Rep. Luetkemeyer is also a strong supporter of our veterans, so I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to abolish government-run Veterans Affairs hospitals either. But Medicaid for our poorest citizens? And the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the youngsters of the poor? Maybe he would like to do away with those.

For sure, he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his fellow Republicans in Congress in opposition to the reform bills now working their way through both houses. In fact, he tells us, right after “Dear Friends,” that “I will oppose any plan that rations care or leaves life-and-death decisions up to government bureaucrats.”

I agree. So, I imagine, do nearly all Americans and probably even most illegal immigrants. That might be why none of the proposals in Congress proposes rationing or placing life-and-death decisions in the hands of government bureaucrats.

(An admission: I haven’t actually read the bills. I rely on those left-wing rags The New York Times and The Washington Post, plus The Associated Press, NBC, Jim Lehrer and NPR, to tell me what’s in them. FactCheck.org does a nice job of correcting misstatements by advocates on all sides. I’m reasonably confident that at least one of those informants would have noticed rationing or death panels.)

What we have now, of course, is rationing by ability to pay. And the bureaucrats now making life-and-death decisions are employed by the insurance companies to hold down their payouts. Why either of those pre-existing conditions is in the public interest isn’t clear to me.

I guess it’s clear to the congressman, though. He assures us that “We have the highest-quality health care system in the world, but most of us can agree that the cost to the consumer is too high and our system must be reformed.” The second of those independent clauses suggests an openness to change, but the first demonstrates a loose — or maybe an ideological — grasp on reality.

The reality, as revealed by every objective comparison, is that our health care system isn’t even close to the best if you measure quality by such outcomes as longevity, access, equity or cost. Our neighbors to the north and most of Western Europe beat us on all those standards. But, to be fair, I’ll concede that Rep. Luetkemeyer’s own government-official insurance probably is as good as any. And I’m pretty happy with Medicare so far.

When it comes to reforms, the 15 bills and resolutions the congressman says he does support don’t appear to me to go very far in either the direction of controlling cost or expanding coverage. A couple of them would, however, further restrict abortion. Another supports observance of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Rep. Luetkemeyer does know more about how physicians think than I do. He predicts that “physicians may decide to stop seeing Medicare patients so they won’t have to take patients on the public plan.” That must be the public plan that isn’t even in the Senate bill. And those are the physicians who seem willing enough to treat us Medicare recipients now. I guess they may, or they may not.

All that politicking leaves me a little skeptical of his closing sentence: “Any decisions we make on health care should not be motivated by politics but, rather, by providing better care for all Americans and all Missourians.”

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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