Free Enterprise the Only Solution to Healthcare Mess

Monday, 15 Mar 2010 05:17 PM

By John Stossel

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I wish President Barack Obama would say to Congress tonight: Members of Congress, I ask you to address our fiscal emergency.

In 1964, President Johnson won a landslide victory — quite similar to mine. His election also brought liberals into Congress. The next year, they created the first government-run healthcare plan: Medicare.

They meant well, but unfortunately, this was the height of fiscal irresponsibility. I know Medicare is popular with the elderly. Of course it is. Everyone likes getting free things. But it is unsustainable.

Retirees believe that their Medicare bills are paid from a "trust fund" that was created with deductions from their paychecks. But this is a politician's lie.

In truth, our predecessors spent every penny of those contributions immediately. They spent them on wars and pork that helped them get re-elected. The money for current retirees' healthcare is taken from today's workers.

This Ponzi scheme worked for a while. But then more people had the nerve to live longer. The average life span increased from 71 to 78 years. When Medicare began, there were five workers for every Medicare recipient. Now there are only four. And by 2030, the Board of Medicare Trustees expects there to be just 2.4. Unless millions of new young workers suddenly arrive from some other planet, there is no way that there will be enough workers to pay the Medicare benefits that we politicians have promised. Medicare's unfunded liability is $37 trillion — yes, trillion. It's a scam. We politicians should be ashamed of what we promised our constituents.

We locked up Bernie Madoff for less.

Therefore, today I apologize for defending the absurd healthcare bills that have emerged from your committees — proposals that would add trillions of dollars of additional debt to an already unsustainable system.

Instead, I propose that we raise the Medicare eligibility age. I propose that wealthy seniors receive Medicare only until they recover as much money as they paid in. After that, you rich people should pay for your own damn healthcare.

These measures will delay but not prevent Medicare's bankruptcy. You Democrats and Republicans both better get your heads out of the sand. There will never be enough tax money to pay for everything that everyone wants. If we expect the state to pay for care, a bureaucracy must tell people, at some age, "No, you can't have that." You might call it a death panel.

There's a better way. I remind you of my speech to business leaders in March. I said, "America's free market has been the engine of America's great progress. . . . And I believe that our role as lawmakers is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market, but to strengthen its ability to unleash the creativity and innovation that still makes this nation the envy of the world."

Only the vitality of the private sector — a truly free one, unencumbered by the crippling stranglehold of burdensome government regulation — can lift America out of the unsustainable mess that we liberals created.

Therefore, I propose complete deregulation of medicine and health insurance. State mandates raise the cost of insurance by forcing people to have coverage many would never buy on their own. The federal government reinforces this crazy system by forbidding competition across state lines.

Meanwhile, professional licensing and controls on medical schools keep the supply of medical services limited and prices high.

That must end, along with restrictions on Health Savings Accounts.

A free medical market would bring lower prices and better services. The price of insurance would come down with the price of care.

The only way to avoid Medicare's collapse is to get retired people onto private insurance plans that they pay for themselves. Since many on fixed incomes would have trouble buying even inexpensive insurance. I propose we sell off the 507 million acres that the federal government owns and give the proceeds to the oldest and most needy.

Then we must free younger workers from the albatross of Medicare so they can save for whatever medical services they choose, now and in retirement.

Yes, my liberal friends, free enterprise is the way.

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." He has a blog at http://blogs.abcnews.com/johnstossel.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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