Oh, you Lochhead

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead — never my favorite reporter on social issues — has a long piece today on health reform that asserts:

It will mean higher taxes and, potentially, lower benefits for many people. It will mean putting the brakes on how doctors and hospitals practice medicine. It may require employers to provide health insurance and individuals to buy it.

None of these things will be popular. Cost containment, identified by the White House as a key objective, never is.

So let’s see: Taxpayers will have to share the pain, the insured, doctors, employers … anyone left out? Oh yeah, insurance companies. Nowhere in 1,600 words does Lochhead find room for the notion that insurers might have to take a cut in their soaring profit margins — though she cites the National Coalition on Health Care as calling for “short-term restraints” on costs, she fails to mention that one of the restraints they’re calling for is a cap on insurance premiums.

On the bigger picture, meanwhile, Lochhead’s article is murky on the question of exactly which problems health reform is supposed to fix. (This is a common problem in health care coverage, which has quickly come to resemble “horse race” style election stories: all about which side is winning, not whose policies would do what.) While she cites both rising costs and rising numbers of uninsured, these aren’t exactly unrelated trends — aside from those who can’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions (which would, thankfully, be dealt with by many of the Congressional plans), the uninsured are mostly uninsured because they can’t afford it.

Since there are only two ways to enable people to afford something — make it cheaper, or give them money to pay for it — both problems would seem to require the same solution in the end: Reduce the amount of money flowing to the people who make money off of health care (insurers, doctors, and makers of the machines that go “ping!”). The alternative would be a system that solves a social ill by pumping government money into rich people’s pockets, and surely that’d never fly with … er, never mind.

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