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Copyright 1999 The Kansas City Star Co.  

October 9, 1999 Saturday METROPOLITAN EDITION


LENGTH: 646 words

HEADLINE: Demand strains U.S. health care


Reasonable people may disagree on the   merits of allowing patients
to sue their   health-care plans, but those who favor the   idea
shouldn't be fooled as to the trade-off   involved.

If the House version of the   patients' bill of rights becomes   law,
health-care insurance coverage will become   more expensive and the
population of uninsured   Americans will continue to increase as   a
result.  Meantime, the quality of care will   gradually deteriorate as
resources previously   used to finance health care are diverted to   pay
insurers' legal bills, plaintiffs' lawyers   and outrageous damages
awarded by juries more   interested in vengeance than economic   justice.

A growing number of Americans   have become convinced that
managed-care   providers concentrate too much on the bottom   line to the
detriment of their ailing clients.    Given some of the horror stories
concerning   policies designed to ration care, the anecdotal   evidence
is difficult to ignore.

It is,   however, only anecdotal evidence.  In the main,   it appears
as though the U.S. system is the   world's best and the health-care
needs of the   overwhelming majority of Americans are being   reasonably
well-served.  It can also be said   with some certainty that the
system's   inadequacies often are as much the fault of   government
policy and user demands as they are   of health maintenance

Whether anyone likes it or not, health care is   being rationed in
America because society's   choice of payment mechanism has boosted
demand   beyond what the system can deliver to   everyone's satisfaction.

Medicare can't pay   its way, so government shortchanges providers   with
ever more stingy reimbursements.    Employers find the cost of insuring
work forces   ever more expensive, so they seek out the most   economical
means of providing health benefits.    The result in both the public and
private   sectors is a form of rationing disguised as   something else.

That something else is the   pretense that it's the fault of
providers when   they can't reasonably respond to the needs of   those
whose care is underwritten by either   government or an employer.  The
essential   problem is that most Americans want   sport-utility vehicle
coverage at compact car   prices.

Uncle Sam is the archetypal   culprit in this regard.  Despite the
obvious   strains on the health-care system, the federal   government has
continued to pile mandate after   mandate on the system.  It has done
this either   by expanding government-financed benefits or   passing laws
forcing private enterprises to add   benefits to their health-care

And when the resulting strains overload the   system, what happens?

The public demands laws   to bolster patient power by expanding access
to   tort relief.  In some cases, an expansion of   the right to sue may
be justified, but the   reality is that too many Americans have   proved
themselves incapable of using their tort   system responsibly.

Tort law is not so   much a way to redress wrongs in America
anymore   as it is a way for the greedy and unscrupulous   to seek
massive financial jackpots by playing   litigation lottery.  If
Washington paints a   bull's-eye on the back of health-care plans,   the
industry soon will be more about   get-rich-quick litigation schemes
than the   practice of medicine.

- Jerry Heaster's   column appears Wednesday, Friday, Saturday   and
Sunday.  To reach him, write the business   desk at 1729 Grand Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO   64108.  To share a comment on StarTouch, call   (816)
889-7827 and enter 2301.  Send e-mail to

LOAD-DATE: October 09, 1999

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