Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare and Carey's Heart

My daughter probably wouldn't have survived in a system where bureaucrats stifle innovation and ration care.

Originally printed in the Wall Street Journal, March 23rd, 2011

Today is the first anniversary of the greatest single assault on our freedom in my lifetime: the signing of ObamaCare. As we consider what this law may do to our country, I can’t help but reflect on a medical miracle made possible by the American health-care system. It’s one that holds special meaning for me. 

Some years ago, a little girl was born with a serious heart defect: Her aorta and pulmonary artery were reversed. Without immediate intervention, she would not have survived.

The infant was rushed to another hospital where a surgeon performed a procedure at 1:00 a.m. that saved her life. Eight months later, when her heart was the size of a small plum, an incredibly dedicated and skilled team of medical professionals surgically reconstructed it. Twenty-seven years later, the young woman is now a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit where she is studying to become a nurse practitioner.

She wasn’t saved by a bureaucrat, and no government mandate forced her parents to purchase the coverage that saved her. Instead, her care was provided under a run-of-the-mill plan available to every employee of an Oshkosh, Wis., plastics plant.

If you haven’t guessed, this story touches my heart because the girl is my daughter, Carey. And my wife and I are incredibly thankful that we had the freedom to seek out the most advanced surgical technique. The procedure that saved her, and has given her a chance at a full life, was available because America has a free-market system that has advanced medicine at a phenomenal pace.

I don’t even want to think what might have happened if she had been born at a time and place where government defined the limits for most insurance policies, and set precedents on what would be covered. Would the life-saving procedures that saved her been deemed cost-effective by policy makers deciding where to spend increasingly scarce tax dollars?

Carey’s story sounds like a miracle, but America has always been a place where medical miracles happen. Since 1970, American doctors have won more Nobel Prizes for Medicine than all other countries combined. According to McKinsey and Co., thousands of foreigners come to the United States every year for medical care they cannot get at home—due to rationing or because it is simply not provided. And cutting-edge drugs to treat serious illnesses are more widely-available in the U.S. than abroad.

Take cancer as one example. Compared to the U.S., breast cancer mortality is 9% higher in Canada (according to the government statistics of each country), 52% higher in Germany and 88% higher in the United Kingdom (according to studies published in Lancet Oncology). And prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in Britain.

Those in need of timely care from specialists are better off in the U.S. Drawing on several peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Scott Atlas of the Stanford University Medical Center notes that patients who need knee and hip replacement, cataract surgery, and radiation treatment wait months longer in the United Kingdom and Canada than in the United States.

The plain truth is the American system is better at rewarding innovation and responding to consumer needs. But the history of government-led care is there for all to see. Are we doomed to repeat it?

For the first time in U.S. history, a personal inaction (not purchasing something, in this case, a health-insurance plan) will be deemed unlawful. The person not committing this act (or is it committing an inaction?) will be subject to a fine. Or is it now, as the government contends, a tax? I’m confused.

This is precisely what Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama wanted. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was sprung on an unsuspecting public with barely enough time for anyone to read it. Remember Speaker Pelosi’s famous line? “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Unbelievable.

I am convinced that ObamaCare was designed to lead to a government takeover of our entire health-care system, which is one-sixth of our economy. As I traveled around Wisconsin in the last year, I asked thousands of people a simple question: “Do you think the federal government has the capability of running one-sixth of our economy?” Only two people ever raised their hand.

Our health-care system has problems that must be addressed. But ObamaCare will make those problems much worse. Instead of increasing consumer choice, it narrows it. Instead of encouraging innovation, it stifles creativity. Instead of expanding access to care, it will ration it. And instead of allowing competition to help bring costs down, it increases spending and puts our health-care system on a path to ruin.

The defects with the president’s health law are so serious and widespread that the administration has already granted over 1,000 waivers to protect businesses, labor unions and other organizations from its most onerous provisions. We need to recognize that the finest health-care system in the world is at risk, and repeal ObamaCare before it’s too late.

Mr. Johnson is a Republican senator from Wisconsin.