Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Cake is a Lie

by Steven Begakis

When considering the imminent push for national healthcare, I typically draw upon one of my favorite obscure cultural references from the famous puzzle video game, Portal. The story follows a scientist in a research facility who is tasked with conducting a series of tests by a friendly super-computer. While the scientist moves through each testing stage, the computer tempts the scientist with the promise of cake upon completion. Without warning, the computer attempts to kill the scientist, but she escapes into the maintenance areas, and it then becomes clear that the rest of the scientists in the facility have been either killed or driven insane. Within the dilapidated halls there appears on a wall the ominous scribbling of the phrase, “the cake is a lie,” written several times in succession with increasingly degenerate penmanship.

How true of our current scenario. As our nation prepares to make its ill-fated journey into the land of government healthcare, we have only to look beyond our borders to see the latest experiment in this failure of a system. Throughout Europe there is strewn a host of victims of nationalized healthcare’s many flaws. Dick Morris recently pointed out, “The current debate [about] erecting a Medicare-like governmental single payer... misses the essential point... The people and equipment that now serve 250 million Americans and largely neglect all but the emergency needs of the other 50 million will now have to serve everyone. And, as government imposes ever more Draconian price controls and income limits on doctors, the supply of practitioners and equipment will decline as the demand escalates.” Morris correctly notes that price increases will never be considered, which leaves the government the only option of rationing. The result would be as predictable as it is currently happening in other nations: unimaginable waiting lists and a denial of service to the sick and the elderly.

When the issue is brought before Congress, our lawmakers should insist that an “exit clause” be explicitly added to any healthcare reform legislation. The clause would require that a non-partisan committee take a “snapshot” of our current healthcare system over the past 5-10 years, then reevaluate the status of our nationalized system 5-10 years down the road, comparing objective data between the two time frames. It would measure such data as denial of service, availability of doctors, sufficient medical supplies, burden to the tax payer and any other considerations that would evaluate true healthcare quality. If we find that nationalization has brought us to our knees, the exit clause could cause automatic re-privatization, allowing us to return to our more successful private health insurance. If not, the committee could simply reaffirm the program.

Detractors may argue that such a clause would be unnecessary, even clunky and overly-bureaucratic, but the integrity of our healthcare system is too important not to have a backup plan. After a decade of “free” healthcare, it would be impossible to dismantle even a failing single-payer system, for those that become dependent on government care wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. There must be a way for our experiment with nationalization to self-destruct if it proves incapable of serving the purpose it was intended to. Democrats and Republicans could agree that such a fail-safe would not be an impediment to progress, but instead designed with the best interests of the nation in mind.

As Congress continues to happily lead us down the rabbit hole of nationalization, all with the seductive promise of “free, quality, available healthcare,” we must take into account that our system may end up like all the other disastrous attempts at single payer. If the cake is a lie, we may be stuck with a medical system that puts an incalculable burden on taxpayers, while never providing the service that it promised. Our lawmakers, along with President Obama, would be doing our country a great service in acknowledging that foreseeable future and providing the necessary fail-safe to prevent it.

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