Voters should consider health care’s bleak future

February 2015, I think around 9:15 a.m., in a crowded waiting room at the Michael Bennet Federal Hospital in Denver. A tired-looking man trudges in and walks to a round, red plastic dispenser. He pulls a number from the machine — 61 the slip reads. He reports the number and his name to a bored clerk and resignedly sits on the corner of a chipped white Formica table after realizing that there are no vacant chairs left in the room.

After he has waited several hours, a scratchy voice announces over the loudspeaker that patient No. 61 should report to the operating suite. The man slowly rises to walk down the worn tile floor to where an EMT following a computer program will remove his gallbladder. But don’t worry, it will be free.

Twilight Zone episode?  No, just a possible scenario for Colorado’s health care system as we lurch down the path opened by congressional passage of the recent health care bill — if Colorado voters don’t elect representatives to help undo it.

All this came to mind while I was examining the recent stopgap legislation preventing a drop in Medicare payments for physicians. Sadly, given the federal legislation, costs associated with the health care bill make the present reimbursement rate for Medicare, or whatever you wish to call the future national payment system, clearly unsustainable.

The question arises of how to force doctors into accepting reduced payments and prevent a shrinking supply of private physicians from trying to recapture their costs by taking only privately or personally funded payment plans.

Coercing existing physicians to accept whatever government payment is established will possibly come by restricting admitting privileges to hospitals that receive federal money, which includes almost all of them. While government bureaucrats may not yet be able to force existing physicians into accepting payment in their private practices, they can probably dictate to hospitals receiving federal funds that physicians permitted to admit patients to the hospital meet certain requirements, such as the acceptance of government payments and the authority of federal officials to select their patients.

As you may recall, the ability of physicians to own and operate their own hospitals has been effectively terminated by the recent legislation.

Given this scenario, the number of primary care physicians will continue to drop as it becomes less and less lucrative to pursue a job requiring a long educational commitment and high tuition. This is one reason the national government has chosen to place itself as the only provider of student loans. Bureaucrats can direct to whom scarce dollars will be awarded and constantly change the rules for payback, financially forcing new physicians to make politically motivated decisions about their areas of practice, geographic location and payment arrangements.

With physician shortages, certain procedures will necessarily have to be performed by less-qualified individuals, and what once was performed by a doctor will begin to be pushed down the ladder of education, experience and training.

At some point, even the qualifications to become a physician may be changed, much like in Castro’s Cuba, where they now have many “doctors” — 75 percent of whom cannot pass the relatively undemanding requirements for foreign physicians to practice in the United States. According to the publication Human Events, the majority of Cuban doctors aren’t even able to meet the requirements of a physician’s assistant in this country.

The point of this is that as many people now head to state conventions to choose candidates for Congress, remember what has been done and what needs to be undone. Your gallbladder is depending on you.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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