Opinion: SJM 8006 wants to take Washingtonians down the wrong health care path

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center believes there are better ways to contain costs in health care.

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center believes there are better ways to contain costs in health care

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

When Senate Joint Memorial 8006 passed out of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee Tuesday, it did so on a party-line vote. The memorial, which is little more than a letter written to the tooth fairy seeking some coins, asks the federal government to create a universal health care program or ease Washington state’s ability to go it alone with government-mandated, government-controlled health care. 

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

Instead of increasing competition in health care by getting rid of things like the state’s outdated and limiting Certificate of Need (CON) law, working on having a population of educated consumers, encouraging innovation at care facilities and reducing regulations to combat health care costs, the legislative majority in our state seems intent on pushing people further from knowledge about the product they buy or receive and patients and doctors further from health care decisions. 

That is a mistake. Citizens, not governments, are the best advocates for their health care. And government systems in other countries lead to the rationing of care. Demand always outstrips supply, and patient-centered health care is not the priority. 

Before the party-line vote, Committee Chair Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, called the memorial a “good signal.” He is on the state’s never-ending Universal Health Care Commission. The commission met regularly this past year, discussing the desire to dump our health care system — without fully considering or reconciling the problems of universal, government-dictated systems. It also created a subcommittee to do the financial groundwork it needs to try and justify the state’s serious pursual of state-based, government-run care.

The commission was created not only to consider a government-mandated, universal system but to actually pave the way in establishing it. It will receive continuous tax dollars to do all its mulling and signal-sending. A state budget being considered allocates hundreds of thousands more to the commission’s activities, including money for dedicated staff, consultation, contract procurement, legislative reporting, federal application requirements, actuarial support and economic modeling. 

That is money not well spent. We already know the costs of government-run care are insurmountable and, more importantly, that quality and access go down. Read more about costs and decreased quality related to government systems in my legislative memo opposing SJM 8006. 

There are better ways to contain costs in health care. The solution is not simply what we have or government health care for all. We need lawmakers thinking outside of those two boxes. 

Riccelli said in the executive session on SJM 8006 that with 6 percent of people in the state uninsured, too many people still lack access to health care. He also declared health care a right. I would challenge both of those statements with the hope of reframing the discussion. Access and prioritizing or seeking are different things. And health care is a need, not a right, just like housing and food. We shop for those things, and assistance is rightly available for people in need. 

“We want to move to a society … where everybody has access to affordable, quality health care,” Riccelli noted in his support of the memorial. Of course, we do. Universal care sounds great until it doesn’t, however. Lawmaker, Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, has seen that affordability and quality don’t go hand and hand. He told the committee of a personal experience with socialized medicine in which the wait time for care was unacceptable. Another lawmaker, Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, said her knowledge of Canadian health care made her cold to SJM 8006.

Harris summed up his opposition to 8006 this way: “If we actually had universal health care, it’d be interesting to see the other problems that we’d have.” I agree. Thinking the grass is greener on this one could leave us all in the mud. The Department of Veterans Affairs is an American example of a single-payer, government-run system that is costly with inconsistent results. We should run from attempts in our state to decrease competition in the health care system and increase government dependency, leaving our health care at the mercy of a monopolistic system that does not need to be timely or responsive to patients.

Harris also rightly noted that the problems various governments have tried to fix with universal, government health care have been exacerbated or worsened, ending his comments this way: “I think we need to fix the system we’ve got, but certainly not throw it out.” 

SJM 8006 now moves along to the full House for consideration.

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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