'Stimulating' Health Care - China's Trying It, Too

The U.S. Congress is hammering out a legislative attempt to “stimulate” the economy with taxpayer-funded health care initiatives, including information technology (IT) and comparative effectiveness research on drugs and treatments.

It looks like China has a similar — and similarly misguided — idea about linking government involvement in health care to economic “stimulus.”

The International Herald Tribune reported January 22 that China intends “to spend $123 billion by 2011 to establish universal health care for the country’s 1.3 billion people.”

Edward Wong’s article referred to an economics professor in Beijing, who claimed “more government financing for individual health care would strengthen the economy.” That sounds very similar to U.S. politicians’ promises.

“Providing universal health care is seen by some economists as a way to stimulate domestic spending during the current economic downturn,” Wong wrote. “The Chinese have a high savings rate, and one of the reasons usually cited is their concern about possible medical expenses.”

But wait — they want people to spend more on health care?

Wong reported on a 2007 study of the effect of rural health insurance on consumer behavior that “found that in government-sponsored health insurance areas, people are spending more.”

So … the government sponsors help (funded by the people) to insure all the people, but the people’s health spending should go up as well. That doesn’t sound like a way to address one of the biggest health care issues — rising costs.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Heritage’s Robert Book put his finger on the inherent conflict in politicians’ reasoning:

“These two arguments are fundamentally at odds with each other. Advocates claim simultaneously that (a) it would stimulate economic growth to spend more money on these reforms, and (b) these reforms would reduce total health care costs–that is, result in spending less money. Perhaps one could make an intelligent argument for either proposition, but it is not possible to make both of those claims and be consistent.”

In addition to that head-spinning congressional attempt at logic, the newest “stimulus” bill may have all sorts of interesting health initiatives before the House gets through with it.

Kaiser’s Daily Report included some striking words coming out of the House on comparative effectiveness, which would pick winners and losers in the world of treatments — and ultimately, patients:

“Draft report language recently released by House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) on a portion of the stimulus package that includes $1 billion for research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments has ‘set off a firestorm’ because of concerns that the legislation would limit access to more expensive treatments, CongressDaily reports.

“The language states, ‘By knowing what works best and presenting this information more broadly to patients and health care professionals, those items, procedures, and interventions that are most effective to prevent, control, and treat health conditions will be utilized, while those that are found to be less effective and, in some cases, more expensive, will no longer be prescribed.'”

That’s exactly our concern — that government bureaucrats might deem some treatments or drugs acceptable and get rid of the rest. What frightening effects that would have on the patients who respond only to a particular treatment. It would be a devastating blow to patient freedom and would eliminate the choice to find what works for each individual.

In addition to the $1 billion for comparative effectiveness research, the House has proposed $20 billion for health IT and $87 billion in Medicaid funds for states in its package thus far.