A popular New Hampshire radio host recently mentioned a historical fact about which I was unaware. During the Vietnam War, he said, the Viet Cong forces occasionally employed a most deplorable tactic. When moving troops or supplies, they would line women and children around the convoys. If the South Vietnamese and American forces wanted to inflict any damage on the convoys, they first had to shoot through the buffer of innocent humanity in their way. They would be killing women and children.
It appears as if U.S. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — whose most distinguishing characteristics are, respectively, a propensity for incomprehensible speech and a tendency to appear less animated than a dime-store mannequin — have learned a great deal from the Viet Cong. They have successfully utilized the disgusting VC military tactics in the political realm, in the form of “KiddieCare,” the latest incremental implementation of the Clinton health “care” agenda.
Earlier in 1997, many free marketeers breathed sighs of relief that the Kennedy-Hatch proposal had been defeated. And how could it ever come back? After all, the Republicans hold majorities in both houses. Conservatives and Libertarians ought to know by now that this numerical fact means very little. Like a vampire — like bad Seventies clothing — the “KiddieCare” proposal was resurrected, this time in the “historic” budget agreement that uninformed, spineless Republicans and gleeful Democrats have been heralding as the salvation of the free world. The political tag-team of Kennedy and Hatch has achieved its goal, and very few Republicans have even raised an eyebrow about it. Why? Because the provision was “for the children,” and woe unto anyone with the audacity to inject reason and principle into an argument about helping children.
The primary statistic used to “alert” citizens to the “Child Health Care Crisis” is that “there are 10 million American children without health insurance.” This statement, offered endlessly by supporters of “Kennedy-Hatch,” and by the President himself, appears to be little more than a conjurers illusion, created to make the observer respond with “oohs” and “ahhs” of amazement and concern. In an excellent analysis published in the June 1997 issue of Reason magazine, John Hood shed the light of truth on these deceptive numbers. They are derived from the March “Current Health Survey” of the U.S. Census Bureau. According to Hood, “The survey presumes uninsured status when households don’t report coverage by a major government insurance program or by employer-provided insurance.”(1)
This has the effect of making individuals who may be uninsured for a very short period appear as if they are part of a national epidemic of non-insureds, when, in fact, many people drop their insurance when leaving jobs, or drop their insurance for short periods only to pick it back up a month or two later. Hood reports that, adjusted for this fact, the “liberal Urban Institute...estimates the number to be 8.7 million, not 10 million.”(2)
And even this number is incorrect. Of those 8.7 million, Hood reports, “...2.l4 million are eligible for Medicaid, and an additional 700,000 will be eligible for Medicaid by the year 2000 because of past Congressional action.”(3) In fact, if brought to the emergency room, most eligible children would be “immediately enrolled” in Medicaid, and receive whatever services they need for free.
But even if the purported number of 10 million is not correct, what is to be done with the rest? The fact is, the uninsured already receive myriad handouts. Blue Cross and Blue Shield operate a charity program in 28 states for uninsured children whose parents do not qualify for Medicaid. The federal program “Women and Infant Children” assists many uninsured children through the funds it provides parents. Prenatal care is provided through government or private means for 96 percent of all U.S. women during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.
Obviously, the posturing that there is a “child health care crisis” is just that, and it is being done on very flimsy footing. Couple the above statistics with the fact that the mortality rate for children between the ages of 5 and 14 has been steadily decreasing for the past fifty years, and you might wonder where the crisis is.
The crisis [of children without insurance] is in the hearts and minds of statist politicians and emotion-based voters who cannot distinguish between private charity and state coercion.
The Kennedy-Hatch proposal was adopted into the budget agreement in the form of a 15-cent per pack tax increase on the sale of cigarettes. With this plunder, a new bureaucracy will soon be created. The new budget allocates $24 billion to the states over the next five years, tax money that must be used to establish new health insurance programs for children whose parents would not normally qualify for Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that 40 percent of the children in such programs will be individuals who were previously covered by other insurance plans — such as their parents’ employee benefit plans, or their parents’ private plans. These children will be shifted over when parents and employers realize that it is in their best interest to drop their children’s coverage in favor of the new government handout.
This proposal should make any semi-sentient being quite nervous. First, it imposes yet another tax on the current “Great Satan,” the tobacco industry. Some might not see this as such a bad thing. After all, smoking is a foul and dangerous habit, and the less of it we have, the better...I could name half a dozen habits that are foul and dangerous, and it would never cross anyone’s mind to tax them. Additionally, such a tax does not simply fall on tobacco growers, cigarette manufacturers, cigarette sellers, and cigarette consumers. It is passed on to non-smokers. If cigarette sales are a major part of his business, a storeowner will try to offset as much of the federal tax increase as he can. He will keep his cigarette prices as low as possible and shift the costs to other products. And, if sales of cigarettes do drop, he will only be able to maintain his over-all profits if he increases prices within the margins on other products: a few pennies for a gallon of milk, a nickel more for orange juice...one way or another, we will all pay.
Additionally, the new bureaucracy will, by its very nature, create more inflation in the health care industry. Any time there is a “third-party” payer, be it the government, or a tax-favored HMO, demand for health services increases. There is a disincentive for the non-paying party to keep costs low. He will seek more services, and costs will rise. The only alternatives under a government plan are to increase taxes, which simply aggravate the problem, or to ration care, which works in contradiction to the purported government goal of providing universal health care to kids.
Anyone who thinks such a government-run system can work need only study Canada. While I was in Vancouver last year, the government was considering imposing limits on doctors regarding how many patients they could see per day. There was even talk of having certain days reserved for certain maladies. A friend once turned to me and asked, “Does that mean the government will also decide what days we can get sick?”
By claiming they are “helping innocent children,” Kennedy and Hatch successfully shielded themselves and their plan from criticism such as that written above. After all, who could find fault with a plan that ostensibly helps needy kids? And who could criticize its kind-hearted framers? Americans learned a great deal from their experiences during the Vietnam War. It appears Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch have remembered, and put into practice, certain tactics that most of us could never have imagined.
But surely this is academic.... After all, the Constitution never enumerated to the federal government the power to regulate “health care,” and the Interstate Commerce Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8) was originally intended to keep states from imposing tariffs on one another, not to give Congress omnipotent control over interstate trade. No politician in his right mind would think of getting the federal government involved in health care...Would he?
Then again, no one pays much attention to the Constitution any more, least of all Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch.
1. Hood, J. Pediatric politics. Reason, June 1997, p.29.
3. Ibid., pp.29-30.
Mr. P. Gardner Goldsmith is a concerned citizen and non-physician subscriber to the Medical Sentinel. His address is P.O. Box 581, Amherst, NH 03031. (603) 673-5941.
Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1998;3(1):28-29. Copyright © 1998 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).