OPINION: Ocasio-Cortez Is Right About Death Panels

Kyle Varner | Contributor

I get chest pain when I have to agree with New York Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But when she says that we have “death panels” in private health insurance markets, she’s absolutely right. Except for one key thing.

As she puts it, private death panels are “companies and boards saying ‘you’re on your own’ to patients who can’t afford their care.” As a doctor, I see bureaucratic decisions made over people’s health coverage every day. Decisions which can often amount to a death sentence for the person denied.

There has been no shortage of scandals to come out around this in recent years, ranging from cold business decisions to outright corruption.

Last year, one of Molina Healthcare’s medical directors was found to have recommended setting a numerical target for claims to be arbitrarily denied so that the company could stay on budget. When the Molina brothers stiffly opposed this, they were fired from the company by their own board.

Another insurance company, United Healthcare also came under fire as patients wrote tell-all articles about how the company denied their cancer treatments, even though they’d been longtime subscribers with no chronic health issues.

But the worst was when Blue Cross employees in multiple states were found actually destroying tens of thousands of claims so they wouldn’t have to pay them. This left a lot of people without the care they needed or stuck in crippling debt.

So yes, bureaucratic authorities in private insurance companies function as death panels with corrupt and arbitrary decision-making. People die every day as a result, and something needs to be done about this. If Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez’s suggested solution of Medicare-for-All gets passed into law, however, the number of deaths will only rise. Not fall.

The key thing that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t get is that it’s not about insurance companies denying treatment. It’s that the prices of healthcare and prescriptions are so astronomically high that without insurance an individual has absolutely no chance of being able to afford them.

If you get pneumonia, the average cost of hospital stay and treatment is $9,793. Break a leg, and you’ll be down $16,796. Have a heart murmur and you’re likely to pay $63,460 per hospital stay. For the wealthiest in society, having to pay for a chronic disease out-of-pocket could mean bankruptcy. And for the rest of us, a death sentence.

So why is medical treatment so expensive in the United States? Physicians in the United States make double that of their counterparts in other wealthy countries largely because Congress effectively capped the number of physicians. By artificially restricting competition, they’ve created the “White Coat Cartel,” where doctors and hospitals are able to charge exorbitant prices for treatment.

Another factor that helps insurance companies kill people is the high price of pharmaceutical drugs which patients couldn’t hope to get without coverage. And why are pharmaceuticals so expensive? Due to excessive FDA regulation, it costs over two billion dollars to bring a new drug to market.

Then, to help recoup their huge investments, drug companies have lobbied for ridiculously generous patent protections. As long as those patent cliffs keep getting extended, the drugs will never enter the generic market nor will their medications become public domain. They also play games with generic drugs to drive up prices even without having patents.

Third party payer systems like Medicare and Blue Cross plans have been promoted by the government since World War II, and they’ve created tremendous over-consumption of low-value medical care. Economists call this moral hazard — when insurance companies pay the bill, the doctor and patient don’t care how much it costs.

In order to keep the system from going bankrupt, someone has to say no. This is the way death panels are born. Changing the system from insurance companies to government-sponsored Medicare for all doesn’t change this. If the decisions aren’t made by insurance company boards, they’ll be made by government committees. The result will be the same.

The sad truth is that if a third party takes your money and then doles it back out to you for your health care, they get to make your decisions for you. Death panels are the natural spawn of this broken system.

The solution is twofold: we need radical deregulation of every state’s health markets so that competition can bring down the price of medical care the same way Uber brought down the price of transportation. Then, we need to drastically cut back on inflation-causing subsidies like Medicare and Medicaid.

The only way to live in a world free from death panels is to live in a world of competitive markets with falling prices — where patients are consumers and the customer is king.

He who has the gold makes the rules. Republicans want insurance companies to have the gold. Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez wants the bureaucrats to have the gold. I want patients to have the gold.

Dr. Kyle Varner is a physician specialized in Internal Medicine and founder of DrVarner.com.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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