Monday, August 17, 2009

Generational Fiction in Times Op-Ed

Richard Dooling, a successful novelist, tries his hand at health policy in a provocative, though ultimately misguided, op-ed today’s New York Times.

It’s the job of any novelist to make his narrative stimulating and interesting, but the picture Dooling paints of greedy seniors selfishly milking away the earnings of grandchildren while they receive unnecessary medical treatment is farcical. Dooling creates a false choice between funding unnecessary and expensive surgeries for terminal patients and funding preventive care for children:
[…] shouldn’t we instantly cut some of the money spent on exorbitant intensive-care medicine for dying, elderly people and redirect it to pediatricians and obstetricians offering preventive care for children and mothers?

The source of the rising cost doesn’t come from seniors’ desire to rip off their grandchildren, as Dooling suggests, it comes from a poorly structured Medicare reimbursement system that pays for procedures and not health outcomes. Healthcare reform is not about denying care for seniors, it’s about changing the incentives of Medicare payments so that seniors get better outcomes. The Mayo Clinic is able to bill Medicare significantly less than other hospital systems, yet delivers excellent care. Medicare needs to reward healthcare systems like the Mayo Clinic and pay for progress, not process.

Dooling is correct that healthcare reform is also about extending healthcare coverage to the 8 million uninsured and underinsured children in America, but grandchildren don’t want to get healthcare if it means taking away their grandparents’ arthritis medication (especially since about 4.5 million children are being raised by grandparents). Our country has provided healthcare to all seniors; it’s now time to extend that benefit to all children. Threatening generational warfare may not be a novel technique in public policy debates; it is, however, tired and worn. We are not a country of isolated self-interested generations, but of connected and interdependent families and communities.

-Terence Kane
Note: The following is published from The Hill's Pundits Blog.

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