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September 29th, 2011 1:44 pm
Ryan Saving Private (Private Medicine, That Is)

At the University of Mobile’s twelve23 project, I assess House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s great speech earlier this week on health care. My final note therein deserves more elaboration:

Give the health care vouchers or credits directly to consumers, and let them, not bureaucrats, search for the best deal for their individual needs.

This idea is nothing new. Back in the 1990s, several leading Democratic senators – among them Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana – agreed with Republicans on a Medicare Commission appointed by President Bill Clinton on exactly this approach to the problem. Alas, when Clinton (and Congress) became embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment effort, the political well was so poisoned that the commission’s recommendations fell by the wayside.

What bears repeating is that this idea is bipartisan and nothing radical at all. Indeed, although at different spending levels, the concept was embraced (or re-embraced) as recently as last winter by Alice Rivlin, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton and later Clinton’s appointee as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. A number of other top-ranking Democratic economic-policy folks have endorsed the concept in whole or in part.


As I also noted, this is essentially the system used in the Medicare prescription drug program — an unaffordable new entitlement, but happily far less unaffordable than originally expected, precisely because competition has worked to keep down costs for taxpayers and consumers alike while providing services with which the consumers are mostly happy.


If Barack Obama wants to stop pretending to be pushing “ideas both parties agree on,” and actually accept an idea that has been bipartisan for 15 years, he would adopt Ryan’s approach. But that won’t happen. Obama isn’t for anything that takes power away from government.


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