Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Why A Progressive Healthcare System Must Make It Illegal To Spend Your Own Money On Care

As difficult as it may be for most of his readers to believe, not everyone appreciates the erudite writings or well-reasoned analyses habitually offered up herein by DrRich. And despite the fact that DrRich takes great pains to express himself cordially even when addressing particularly contentious issues, and that he assiduously avoids personal attacks on his opponents, and indeed usually attributes lofty motives to them (focusing instead on their counterproductive methods or naive premises), it is not at all rare for DrRich to be the recipient of some rather negative, even personally hostile, communications.

And of all the topics likely to engender such negative feedback, none gets a more vociferous response than this: DrRich’s contention that among the many mandatory features that will necessarily comprise any Progressive healthcare system, the most obligatory, compulsory, requisite and non-negotiable of all will be the imperative to forbid individuals from having any meaningful control over their own healthcare destiny.

There are two basic reasons individual autonomy in healthcare must be stifled.

First, in order to achieve the most efficient and most effective outcomes within a Progressive healthcare system, all healthcare decisions will have to be made by a Central Authority, wielding its concentrated organizational and scientific expertise to maximize the public good.  Allowing these carefully calibrated decisions to be modulated by imperfect individuals (i.e., by non-experts) will fatally undermine the entire effort.

Second, and far more importantly, when one has at last devised a centrally-controlled, “universal” healthcare system (again, for the purpose of maximizing the public good), then allowing individuals to spend some of their own money on healthcare services that have not been officially sanctioned for them by the Central Authority will wreck the very legitimacy of that system. That is, to permit such individual prerogatives is tantamount to admitting that, perhaps, the Central Authority is actually NOT providing all useful healthcare services to all people (when, by definition, it is). Allowing individuals to purchase “extra” healthcare is a signal to the unwashed masses that there is “extra” healthcare to be had, and that the Central Authority may be holding out on them.

To say it another way, an essential feature of any Progressive healthcare system will be to carefully manage the expectations of the subject citizenry. To have certain subjects running around purchasing extra healthcare will fatally damage those managed expectations, and thus will fatally damage the Progressive healthcare system itself. Hence, it is imperative that individuals be constrained.

This fact has caused DrRich to say, many times, that the real battle over our new healthcare system will be the battle over whether Americans will be permitted to spend their own money on their own healthcare. Left-leaning readers take great umbrage at such a thought, since it is tantamount to accusing them of working toward a great tyranny. Most left-leaning Americans are still Americans, and therefore despise tyranny, and it is perfectly understandable that they would be angered at such an accusation. This is why, DrRich thinks, most left-leaning Americans will themselves be horrified when they at last glimpse where a Progressive healthcare system is inevitably taking us. Unfortunately, DrRich fears, such a realization on the part of well-meaning, left-leaning Americans will come too late to do us any good.

DrRich has attempted to document the efforts of Progressives to limit individual healthcare prerogatives, and while he himself finds the evidence compelling that they are deadly serious about doing so, he apparently has not made the case to the full satisfaction of many of his readers. So let him offer up the latest, particularly compelling, piece of evidence.

Last week, Washington DC District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that elderly Americans do not have the right to drop out of Medicare and purchase their own health insurance, unless they also forgo all Social Security payments, and repay the government any Social Security payments they have already received.

The notion that Americans MUST accept Medicare, of course, dates back to the Clinton administration, which in 1993 promulgated a rule in its Program Operations Manual System (POMS) to that effect. (DrRich has described how the Clinton healthcare reform plan intended to aggressively restrict individual prerogatives, and despite the failure of Hillarycare the Clinton administration still took several steps to do so.)  The lawsuit in question was filed by three elderly Americans (one of whom is Dick Armey), who wish to drop out of Medicare in favor of self-purchased health insurance, without having to sacrifice (and repay) their Social Security benefits.

Interestingly, Judge Collyer in 2009 denied a motion by the Obama administration to dismiss the suit, noting that “neither the statute nor the regulation specifies that Plaintiffs must withdraw from Social Security and repay retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare.” Her preliminary ruling thereby confirmed the plaintiffs’ main contention.  So most observers assumed that the judge’s final ruling would also be in favor of the plaintiffs.

It was not. In her final ruling last week, Judge Collyer found a new interpretation of the Medicare statute itself that upholds the POMS rule. The Medicare statute, she now argues, specifies that people who are entitled to Social Security are automatically “entitled” to Medicare, and therefore if one elects to receive the Social Security payments one is owed, one must also accept Medicare. She flatly rejects the notion that when Congress says “entitled” it is implying anything optional, as in, “You can have it if you want it.” When you’re dealing with Medicare, she says, “‘entitled’ does not actually mean ‘capable of being rejected.’” When Congress says “entitled” Congress means you must have it – that it’s mandatory. Judge Collyer ends by sympathizing with the plaintiffs (or laughing at them – DrRich cannot tell for sure): “Plaintiffs are trapped in a government program intended for their benefit.”

The apparent change in Judge Collyer’s reading of the Medicare statute between 2009 and 2011 is disturbing. What made her originally read the plain language of the Medicare statute just like any literate American would, but then two years later read it as if she had to twist it into a presupposed “right” answer? We will never know, of course, but the turnabout seems troubling to DrRich.

It is instructive that the Obama administration would go to such lengths to prevent old farts from dropping out of Medicare. Medicare is not only in the red, but is a great fiscal threat to our national well-being. One would think they’d welcome the idea that some of our elderly might want to pay for their own health insurance, and save Medicare a lot of money. Instead, they fought it tooth and nail, even though the fight reduced them to absurdity. The Obama administration’s chief argument against the lawsuit was that the plaintiffs were lucky to receive such a boon as Medicare, and therefore suffered “no injury” by having to accept it, and so had no standing before the court. The judge herself ridicules the argument of the Obama administration: “The Secretary extolls the benefits of Medicare and suggests that Plaintiffs would agree they are not truly injured if they were to learn more about Medicare…The parties use a lot of ink disputing whether Plaintiffs’ desire to avoid Medicare is sensible.”

So as it now stands, seniors (unless they are rich enough to walk away from Social Security altogether) must accept Medicare. Admittedly, for most elderly Americans this is not a big deal – of course they’re going to accept Medicare. But, as DrRich has pointed out, current law already makes it nearly impossible for patients on Medicare to self-pay for denied medical services. Once you are on Medicare, you will get the medical services the Central Authority approves for you – and nothing more. In the not-too-distant future, this restriction is likely to become much more apparent to Medicare recipients. When and if the day comes when we would like to buy ourselves some medical care which the Central Authority would rather we did not have, we old farts will find that we are “entitled” neither to pay for our own healthcare, nor to drop out of the government program that so restricts us.

And at the risk of angering his readers yet again, DrRich asserts that we are one giant step closer to the day when it will become illegal for all Americans to spend their own money on their own healthcare.

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »