Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy released a report last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, alleging that the United States ranked only 39th among 149 countries in terms of environmental protection. According to the authors, the U.S. lags Russia, Albania and Croatia, and barely edges out Cuba.
Anyone who has ever traveled internationally would be surprised at (more…)
Tata Motors’ Nano, the cheapest car in the world, was launched this month in India, to the delight of lower-income households able to afford their first car. While environmentalists and city planners fear an increase in pollution and congestion, the Nano is safer and more ecofriendly than other options available to the poor. (more…)
The House Interim Committee on Health Care held a lively public hearing and work session yesterday on a proposed Constitutional Amendment which would declare access to health care to be a “fundamental right.” If approved by the February special legislative session, it would be voted on by Oregonians in November.
The key language of Legislative Concept 91 (which became HJR 100 in the special session) reads:
The people of Oregon find that health care is an essential safeguard to human life and dignity and that access to health care is a fundamental right. In order to implement that right, the Legislative Assembly shall establish by law a plan for a system designed to provide every legal resident of the state access to effective and affordable health care on a regular basis.
The hearing started with representatives from Kaiser, Care Oregon and the Oregon Nurses Association testifying in favor of creating this new “fundamental right.”
Then Cascade Policy Institute board member Michael Barton and I testified in opposition. Michael gave the committee a history and philosophy lesson, explaining how the American government was founded on the principle that government does not grant rights, it simply protects our inalienable rights such as those to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He explained that our rights define what we are free to do without interference; they are not goods or services that others must provide for us. He gave each member a copy of his 2006 Cascade Commentary, “Right” to health care violates individual rights, which was published in response to an early version of the current “legislative concept” facing us now.
I followed Michael with a discussion of the political implications. Here is the gist of my testimony:
On a philosophical level, I object to defining health care as a right. On a political level, I understand that government tries to grant such positive rights all the time. In this case, passing this constitutional amendment will make some people feel good. It says that we care deeply about the uninsured, but it only gives intellectual lip service, if that, to the matter of future costs.
More and more people will say “I have a right to not care about the costs, because I have an unqualified right to health care.”
Define health care as a fundamental right and cost control will go out the window – witness the public school system and how the Quality Education Model is now driving massive spending increases for little if any improvement in real quality. I can almost see the just-around-the-corner Quality Health Care Model defining prototype health clinics, with mandated staffing levels, required tests, etc. Innovation will become mired in bureaucratic process.
And who will have the task of controlling the economics? Is this legislature going to assume responsibility for that? An elegantly composed commission? A superhuman future governor? Or do you assume private insurance companies will simply figure it out?
Rather than spend precious political capital trying to create an artificial right to health care, I suggest we spend that capital finding practical ways to drive health care costs down and quality up. Make it easier for more people to afford health care on their own by getting un-needed mandates and insurance regulation out of the way. Then, if you decide that some people still can’t afford it, take a page from the food stamp book, or other such programs where you simply subsidize health care purchases for low-income people. That will distort the economics far less than the route you’re trying to embark on here today.
After our prepared testimony the committee members asked us a number of questions, giving us the opportunity to expand on our position. Chairman Mitch Greenlick seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth; at one point likening it to a good college debate.
Then Rep. Greenlick himself testified in favor of what is really his proposal. The committee then spent a considerable amount of time discussing the pros and cons, before approving it, and the accompanying joint resolution setting the November election (LC 88), on a party line vote.
A key argument against the proposal was made by Rep. Dennis Richardson who observed that, if enacted, a “fundamental right” to health care would seem to trump everything else in the Oregon Constitution. If the legislature comes up with a plan to make good on this “fundamental right” what happens when voters reject the new taxes needed to pay for it?
Since neither education, transportation, criminal justice, or any other state government service is defined as a “fundamental right” in our Constitution, then funding for these services might be cannibalized to fund the one “fundamental right” in that document, health care. But voters won’t be presented with this reality when marking their ballots in November. This potential clash of essential services may make for strange bedfellows in future election battles. Will the teachers union, for example, want to lose funding to the health care providers?
The unintended consequences of this proposal are almost endless. But that’s the way the game is played for now, and the next inning will play out in Salem over the next few weeks. Stay tuned…
Last week’s Oregon Health Summit in Salem featured experts talking with legislators, providers and others about how to reform our ailing health care system. One pair of speakers really highlighted the contrast between competing approaches.
Welfare dependent people need access to physical, social and economic mobility to become self-sufficient. Opportunity Cars generates access to both physical and economic mobility through its financial fitness classes and car purchase program in Crook County, Oregon. (more…)
A recent study of public sector retirement funds by The Pew Charitable Trust’s Center on the States found that “Oregon currently has the best-funded pension system in the country.” This claim for Oregon’s $50-plus billion system is only technically true if we leave out the liabilities generated by $6.2 billion in pension obligation bonds issued to help reduce PERS rates. (more…)
While the debate continues over top-down, government-provided health care vs. consumer-driven, grassroots health care, here are some interesting points to consider.
First, the government- provided approach. Many say that affordability would not be an issue, given a payroll tax to pay for universal coverage. However, any time a tax is levied, more of “middle America” loses earned income. This leads to an increasing burden on working families, without any guarantee of (more…)
Clean-up of pollution from motor vehicles has been one of the great American success stories in modern times, and the success will continue for decades due to technological innovation and auto fleet turnover. The best thing politicians can do for the environment is to let automakers and their investors bring the next generation of improvements to the world. (more…)
The Portland Public School Board recently denied all four requests from charter school applicants who wanted to offer more options for Portland children in the 2008-09 school year.
The Willamette Week described the meeting this way:
“Charter schools got no love Monday night from Portland Public Schools’ Board of Education. The board unanimously rejected four new charter applications in a two-hour smackdown that (more…)
Contrary to what the interest groups who run our public education system keep saying, the general public understands their schools aren’t all that they could be. A recent nationwide poll of 1,000 adults by The Economist Magazine reveals an interesting picture of how voters feel about public education.
Only 13% say “Too little money” is the most important problem (more…)