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WSJ needs to ration its nonsense

[1]An editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal explains [2] how health care in the United States was all puppies and rainbows until the election of President Barack Obama and the invention of health care “rationing.”

The specific subject of the editorial was the declaration by Medicare that for now it will only pay for real, not virtual, colonoscopies.

You have to hand it to the WSJ, it does a great job of sticking to the health reform talking points pushed [3] by Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz. Luntz suggests that his minions repeat the line that one size does not fit all in health care. That is critical. The WSJ editorial would make him proud with this line: “The problem is that what ‘works best’ isn’t the same for everyone.”

Another winner, according to Luntz, is arguing that if health reform triumphs then the government — nooo, not the government! — will set standards of care. The WSJ dutifully follows along with this line: “Washington’s utilitarian judgments about costs would reshape the practice of medicine.” Yikes, we don’t want utility.

And don’t forget to mention, Luntz warns, “It could lead to the government rationing care, making people stand in line and denying treatments like they do in other countries with national healthcare.” What is the WSJ version of this argument? “This is a preview of how health care will be rationed when Democrats get their way.”

Aside from just repeating the lines fed to it by a conservative public relations flak, there are at least two other problems with the WSJ editorial against Medicare paying for things that cost tons of money are aren’t particularly effective.

First, many of the people who would buy into any public Medicare-like program would likely not have insurance now. That means no virtual colonoscopies and no real colonoscopies. We currently ration care based on who has insurance and who does not.

Second, the WSJ does not offer any alternative to the current Medicare system. Should Medicare pay for everything regardless of effectiveness? Should Medicare just leave it up to doctors to decide what it should pay for? Given the wide variation in physician prescribing habits I don’t think that’s a good idea. Also, Medicare not paying for stuff is not something created by the Obama administration. Insurance, including Medicare, has never paid for every treatment. That includes, by the way, private insurance.

So let’s the cut the silliness. And if you’re going to use simplistic scare tactics at least get some original talking points. The Luntz lines were tired even before they were leaked.