In responding to criticism by Republicans and some Democrats that universal health-care proposals constitute socialized medicine, President Bill Clinton asks whether critics consider Medicare in that category.
That question should be followed by these: Has Medicare produced the results its supporters claimed it would, and will government-mandated universal health care do likewise?
The bills under consideration in Congress have been written by staff people who, The New York Times reports, "have years of experience analyzing how to regulate health costs, how to pay doctors and hospitals, how to provide more care to more people." But they have no experience in delivering real medicine to real patients.
Edward R. Annis, M.D., does. He's a past president of the American Medical Association and has debated the proper roles of government and medicine for more than 30 years. In his book, "Code Blue: Health Care Crisis," Annis lays out the philosophy and failings of government-managed medicine and blames government for rising costs.
"Under Medicare," he writes, "our system is subject to the perverse incentives of arbitrary price-fixing, utilization review, concurrent review, retrospective review and retroactive denial of payment - making health care the most heavily regulated industry in the history of our nation. Government decides whether or not a patient will be admitted to a hospital, whether or not surgery will be performed, whether or not an assistant will be used in surgery, when a patient will be discharged, and what and how often procedures and diagnostic studies will be performed - all without ever examining the patient. "
The primary cause of high medical costs, argues Annis, is government regulation, which accounts for 26 percent of the price of visiting a doctor or hospital. Malpractice insurance adds significantly to the bill. Up to 95 percent of the cost of a child's vaccine can go to legal liability expenses, he says.
Those backing the House or Senate bills argue they will be able to control costs (even though Clinton has repeatedly promised that health-care reform would reduce costs).
Since Medicare was born 30 years ago, the cost of health care has been driven up. In 1965, when Congress passed Medicare, medical inflation rose just 2. …