Dr. Roger Stark, a retired heart surgeon and former Republican candidate for the state Legislature, presented his argument for less regulation of the health insurance market as a solution to the nation’s health care problems, at the monthly meeting of the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Stark, an advocate for free-market solutions and a member of the medical industry lobby group Liability Reform Coalition, told the chamber that “we have the best health care system in the world,” and that Medicare and Medicaid were to blame for the rising cost of health care in the United States.
He said that reform was needed in the system not because of the numbers of uninsured people or the quality of health care Americans received, but because of the cost, noting that the U.S. currently spends 18 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, more than any other country.
Stark said that if the trend continued, Americans would spend an amount equal to one-third of the total economy on health care by 2030.
“Somehow we have got to get off that curve,” he said.
Stark said figures which showed that 45 million Americans were uninsured were misleading, claiming that of that 45 million, one-third were people who already qualified for government programs but hadn’t signed up, and a large percentage were between 18-34, the “young and healthy,” for whom a health care plan was not a priority.
“So the real number is about 10 million,” he said. “It’s a little disingenuous, and at worst a flat out lie, to say that we need major health care reform in this country because of the uninsured.”
Stark went on to tell the audience that the World Health Organization’s report, which found that the U.S. fared very poorly when it came to the quality of health outcomes worldwide, was both scientifically inaccurate and biased against the United States.
In a series of recent op-ed pieces, Stark has claimed that a government option in the health insurance market would lead to waiting lists for services, which he described as “rationing.”
“Anytime that another country is held out to you (as an example of a better health care system), such as Japan, Sweden, or France, you should remember that there is rationing that goes on there,” he said.
He also claimed that how long a person lived had more to do with their race than with the quality of health care in their country, citing Japan, which traditionally has one of the highest life expectancy rates.
“I’ve never been to Japan, but, you know, they all look alike don’t they?” he told the audience. “Here in America, we’re more of a melting pot.”
Stark, who in the past has said that there should not be public funding for abortion, drew an immediate conclusion between a government run option in the health insurance market, and complete centralized control of consumer options.
“Either we go down the fork that says the government can tell us who we can see, and what services we can have, or we give it back to the individual to choose,” he said. “Under the public option, the government will offer a policy, which will be cheaper than private insurers and will offer the same benefits. And then that would lead to government control of our health care system. If the government’s controlling our health care system, it will be Medicaid for everybody.”
When presented with findings that countered his promotion of less regulation of the insurance market, Stark responded by claiming errors on behalf of the surveyors, or those surveyed.
Commenting on the newly released study by the New England Journal of Medicine which found that 63 percent of physicians supported a mixture of public and private options, and respondents across all demographic subgroups showed a majority support for the inclusion of a public option, Stark said that “doctors often get buried in their work,” and that they “suffer from cognitive dissonance.”
Stark’s opposition to a government option in health care is an interesting phenomenon in the field — the New England study found that primary care providers, those who have actual interaction with the patients they treat, were the most likely to support a public option.
Other physicians, those that have less regular contact with patients, such as heart surgeons, were the least likely to support a public option, although the majority still do so.
Stark said that opening up the insurance market, by such means as allowing consumers to shop for plans in other states, would increase competition and therefore improve the health care market. He advocated the greater use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), in order to encourage consumers to be more involved in their health care spending decisions.
An Issaquah-based chiropractor in the audience said he had had very positive experiences with patients using HSAs – another audience member question why there hadn’t been more of an effort to promote them.
Despite the example of the American financial industry, whose unregulated, profit driven activity is widely believed to be responsible for the current global recession, Stark reinforced his belief in the power of the market to provide vital social services.
“America has the best consumers in the world,” he said, as an explanation for why less market regulation would succeed in improving the health care industry. “Imagine if food was a centralized industry, and you didn’t have Fred Meyer or Safeway or anywhere like that to buy your groceries. There was only one place to buy food, and it was run by the government.”
Stark’s message will be popular with those who believe that a public option is the first step in an inevitable slide to communism.
He said there was a role for the government in the health care industry — to provide a safety net, comparing this to the provision of food stamps.