08/25/2009 2:44 PM
"Choice, competition, reducing costs -- those are the things that I want to see accomplished in this health reform bill," President Obama told talk-show host Michael Smerconish last week.
Choice and competition would be good. They would indeed reduce costs. If only the President meant it. Or understood it.
In a free market, a business that is complacent about costs learns that its prices are too high when it sees lower-cost competitors winning over its customers. The market -- actually, the consumer -- holds businesses accountable and keeps them honest. No "public option" is needed.
So the hope for reducing medical costs indeed lies in competition and choice. Today competition is squelched by government regulation and privilege.
But Obama's so-called reforms would not create real competition and choice. They would prohibit it.
In place of the variety of products that competition would generate, we would be forced "choose" among virtually identical insurance plans. Government would define these plans down to the last detail. Every one would have at least the same "basic" coverage, including physical exams, maternity benefits, well-baby care, alcoholism treatment, and mental-health services. Consumers could not buy a cheap, high-deductible catastrophic policy. Every insurance company would have to use an identical government-designed pricing structure. Prices would be the same for sick and healthy.
In this respect, it wouldn't matter whether or not Congress created a "public option," a government insurance plan. In either case, bureaucrats would dictate virtually every aspect of the health-insurance business.
What Obama says in favor of a public option -- as of today, at least -- tells us how little he understands competition.