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Budget blind to disaster in health care

York Dispatch
Editorial
February 9, 2006

President Bush's 2007 budget, with its target of reducing Medicare spending by $36 billion over the next five years, could be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of the nation's health care system. It also could drive states and their voters to the wall, forcing a new look at universal health care.

Squalls tearing through the current system -- including the latest round of bureaucratic chaos, the messy Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program -- have the potential to form a political storm that the Republican-dominated Congress had best heed in their own interest.

No, the American Medical Association doesn't like the concept, nor do most state medical associations, for-profit hospitals and institutions -- especially the pharmaceutical industry.

But there comes a time in the history of any business when, through arrogance or favorable legislation, it gets priced out of business. The nation's health-care industry is leaping to that precipice.

It seems the president's budget advisors are slow to get the message about the nation's health-care crisis. Witness the fiscal 2007 Budget that:

Cuts $36 billion in Medicare over the next five years and reduces funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the folks responsible for seeing we don't get avian flu -- and slashes aid to children's hospitals.

In an election year, every Republican member of the U.S. House and every GOP senator up for re-election (note here Rick Santorum) must be choking a bit on how this will play in the hustings.

Add to that the general unpopularity of the Medicare Prescription Drug Program -- an excellent example of institutional confusion and a windfall for pharmaceutical companies -- and you have a nightmare for any politician trying to sell such goods to senior voters or their children.

Time for universal health care? One would think. In Arizona last week, there was a hopeful ripple. Physicians gathered on the capitol lawn to urge state passage of a single-payer health care system covering every resident.

The plan would use funds from employers, Medicare and Medicaid for universal coverage in the state, regardless of age or income level.

In Arizona, in Pennsylvania and across the nation, the system is broken. And it's obvious from the latest federal budget proposal that the government doesn't know how to fix it.

To do so would require a sense of political will absent in a Congress clearly beholden to market interests instead of to the health care needs of the country as a whole.

The Bush administration's health-care cuts are bottom-line economics in a system that cries out for drastic reform. It's ill-advised and a further recipe for disaster.