Every problem in America has advocates who claim that if enough money is spent on that particular difficulty, it will be solved. That may be true, although most evidence suggests otherwise. And every answer creates its own new set of difficulties. But the most basic question of all still remains - can the country afford it?
The latest effort to resolve a deep-seated problem involves the lack of medical insurance for more than 31 million Americans who do not have coverage. Admittedly, that is a serious and fundamental concern. But a proposal put forth recently by the National Association of Social Workers appears to lose touch with reality.The organization suggested that the nation adopt a program of government-supported national health insurance with a package of basic benefits for everyone, including prevention, mental health, vision and dental services. The cost would be staggering.
Basic benefits with limited co-payments for some services and no long-term care coverage would raise the nation's health care costs another $40 billion a year to $693 billion. With long-term care added, the additional annual expense would rise by $85 billion - just for starters. If co-payments were eliminated, the cost would top an extra $100 billion a year, reaching $767 billion. And if Medicare and Medicaid are any example, the cost would rapidly mushroom in each succeeding year.
The proposed program would phase out all other public health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. People could use whatever hospital or doctor they wanted. Of course, that would lead to inevitable government controls over all hospitals and all doctors. The nation would have socialized medicine.
The social workers say the plan could be handled by the states, with a National Health Board providing states with an annual budget to pay all health care providers. Financing would be done through a progressive federal tax on all income, plus an employer-paid payroll tax.
Any such tax would be large indeed. True, everybody would be covered, but the cost would be horrendous, the bureaucratic red tape would be beyond imagining, and a whole new army of clerks and officials would be needed on state and federal levels just to take care of the paperwork.
The result would not necessarily be better medical care - just a cumbersome and expensive bureaucracy.
Problems of health costs and insurance coverage are very real and need imaginative answers. But simply saying, "Let the government take charge and send the taxpayer the gigantic bill" is no solution.