Health care reform and ‘The Princess Bride’

Dino Teppara Contributor
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In the classic romantic comedy “The Princess Bride,” the hero, Westley, is assumed dead after being tortured by one of evil Prince Humperdinck’s leading hit men. He is later resurrected by Miracle Max, a magical healer played by actor Billy Crystal, who realizes that Westley was not completely dead, but only “mostly dead.”

Many conservatives thought that the health care reform legislation died upon the election of Scott Brown to the Senate. But it turns out the bill was in fact only mostly dead. The package has been magically revived with a new student loan bill attached to it, after being stuffed with kickbacks and abortion language that have absolutely no bearing to reforming our health care delivery system. Meanwhile, provisions that address malpractice lawsuits and permanently fix the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula, which should be the primary focus of the bill, are absent.

Liberals have ignored the concerns average Americans have for the massive expansion of government in this legislation, and the concerns they have for the scope and cost of the bill. The messy legislative process fuels suspicion that the bill may not be in their best interests. Liberal leaders made the mistake of thinking that this debate was about those without health care insurance. In fact, the debate was focused on whether those that are currently insured are willing to pay to cover the uninsured. Since we are a country where the majority of Americans believe in self-reliance and do not believe in paying much of anything for other people, this was already a tough sell. Throw in the fact that those with insurance may end up paying more for lower quality health care, and you end up with the result you see today, with liberal ideology clashing with our nation’s center-right values.

The critical mistake liberals made in the debate was violating an axiom I first heard from former Speaker Dennis Hastert, when he stated in politics one should always under-promise and over-deliver. Democrats did the exact opposite, over-promising and under-delivering. Even worse, they laid down timelines for legislative action, a big no-no when dealing with Congress. Democrats became overconfident that their large majorities could pass a bill before the August 2009 recess and were taken off guard by the town hall meetings and tea party rallies protesting both the bill and the secretive process surrounding it.

Instead of using the bill as a vehicle to promote core liberal beliefs, the president and congressional Democrats should have designed a bipartisan package focusing first on improving the delivery of our health care system. By including a permanent fix to the SGR formula, Congress would demonstrate its commitment to Medicare to both physicians and seniors. By including some lawsuit reform measures, Congress could reduce the practice of defensive medicine and save billions of dollars annually. This would acknowledge the enormous cost and domino effect litigation has on physicians, hospitals and other health care providers. Addressing the rise of insurance premiums on families and small businesses would still be a necessary part of the reform package. But when you do the math, assuming an average monthly premium of $750 for 30 million currently uninsured people, you arrive at a price tag of less than $300 billion, not $1 trillion. This legislation should simply not cost this much. Add a permanent fix to the SGR formula of approximately $200 billion, and the entire bill should have cost less than $500 billion. It could have been fully paid for without tax raises by reducing wasteful spending, inefficiencies and fraud, especially in Medicare, and reduce overall health care and insurance costs by virtually eliminating the practice of defensive medicine.

Instead of creating a cap for how much these key items would cost and providing a fully paid-for package that could pass with bipartisan support, Democrats created a liberal wish-list and then decided to figure out how to pay for it all later. This meant primarily tax raises and Medicare cuts, neither palpable to the doctors and seniors who would bear most of the brunt of such revenue-generating provisions.

This type of spending is exactly opposite to how the American people handle their own finances. They base their monthly spending on how much revenue they have, not spend first and then try to generate revenue to pay for that spending.

While the Princess Bride is a humor-filled Hollywood fantasy where the hero is brought back to life, the current health care reform bill is a nightmare that would be better of staying “mostly dead. ”

Dino Teppara is an attorney and serves as the Chairman of the Indian American Conservative Council.