Whether or not you like it, Congress health care bill ultimately comes down to one question: How much faith do you have that a politically appointed committee in Washington, D.C., can determine whats best? After last weeks Bay Bridge failure, Bay Area residents would do well to consider the obvious parallel. If the government cant build a bridge that keeps us safe, can it really be trusted with the future of American health care?
The original proposalprompted by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakewas a relatively straightforward bridge repair and seismic retrofit, estimated to take four years and cost $150 million to $200 million. A bigger idea, however, took hold: Rather than simply fix the broken bridge, why not replace it with an entirely new structure, one with a world-class design intended to create an inspirational identity for Oakland and the East Bay?
A Bay Bridge Design Task Force was appointed and eventually selected a never-before-built design for the new span, eliciting the protests of knowledgeable engineers who denounced it as seismically unsafe. Despite the lowest bid coming in at $300 million more than cost projections, Caltrans forged ahead with the plan. Choosing not to revise its cost estimates for the bridge, Caltrans instead promised to pursue cost-saving measures aggressively to stay within the $2.6 billion project budget. Currently, the bridge is projected to be complete in 201324 years after Loma Prietaat a cost of $6.3 billion.
The first sign that the design might not be so world-class was the crack in the eyebar discovered duringand likely caused byLabor Day weekend construction. As diagnosed by UC Berkeley civil engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, who has spent 20 years studying the bridge, the Labor Day crack was a warning sign that the repair they were doing was really a Band-Aid. After just seven weeks the Band-Aid broke.
Such an outcome should be no surprise. Once authority was handed over to a political committee, decisions ceased to be based on what best served users of the bridge. Cost and functionality took a backseat to visually appealing but unnecessary features, all to be paid for with higher bridge tolls. These additions were planned with no concern for what impact those higher tolls might have on those who pay them.
Unfortunately, the proposed health care bill provides for precisely the same kind of decision making by political appointees with no accountability to those who will actually be using or paying for the resulting system.
The bill establishes a Health Benefits Advisory Committee with the power to restrict or permit anyones future access to health care. The committee is entrusted with providing details for the public option and setting the price for plan participants. In short, the committee will have enormous power to decide what health services any public or private insurer can cover, at what cost and for whom.
Those hoping to have future health care covered by something other than a Band-Aid should seriously evaluate the appropriateness of a politically entrenched health care committee accountable to none. Improvements can and should be made, but a federal overhaul of the entire sector is no more necessary or desirable than a budget-busting, seismically unsound, signature design replacement for our utilitarian Bay Bridge.
Promises to pay for the bridges cost overrunsof which there remains no end in sightwith cost-saving measures came to naught, just as those currently being made by health care overhaul proponents surely will. If we allow health care to go the way of the Band-Aid plan, we shouldnt be surprised when the outcome resembles the bridgea flawed design with skyrocketing costs and dwindling benefits.
|Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, Ms. Theroux is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.|