How the Texas Long Horns and the TCU Horned Frogs Saved Health Care Reform

I just finished watching clips from NBC’s Meet the Press, which featured Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) discussing the status of the “public option” in the health care reform debate. It wasn’t much of a debate, despite host David Gregory’s best effort to provoke something other than party-line blather from either senator.  He wasn’t having much success.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sen. Schumer made a comment that snapped my attention to full alert. He compared the public plan competing against private health insurers with public and private colleges and universities.  (If you watch the clip, it comes right at 2:00 minutes.)  I had to back it up and watch it again to confirm I actually had heard him correctly.  Gregory didn’t catch it, which he should have; Sen. Hatch, if he caught the comment, either had no response, or was so close to dozing off, he just kept mumbling the same old script.  I couldn’t really tell.

Schumer’s statement was a new characterization; I hadn’t heard it before. I’m not sure he even recognized the significance of it.  But it is an intriguing way to look at the public option. And since my PhD is in Higher Education, this is something I actually know something about.

Every state in the country has private and public universities.  Take Texas, for example, where the idea of the public option is more anathema than the Long Horns losing to Oklahoma.  The University of Texas in Austin is a public university.  Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft Worth, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree, is a private university.

Hook 'em Horns.  University of Texas Football

Hook 'em Horns. University of Texas Football

According to the prevailing dogma of Republican and Free Market devotees, the government should never be allowed to compete against free enterprise and the private market, because the government will always do it worse, waste vast amounts of money in the process and destroy competition, thereby threatening the American Way of Life.

Does the public university “system” in the country drive out the private schools by being too competitive for them to survive? They could in theory, because student tuition in the state schools is subsidized by taxpayer dollars (although that has been shrinking dramatically over the past twenty years–the states all too often are short on cash), attracting more students than the private schools. For example, UT is a lot bigger than TCU (50,000 vs 9,000!). But private colleges, which were the original American academic institutions (Harvard was founded in 1636), continue to compete and flourish, despite the apparent advantage the public schools have. The typical model for what we think of as a state college or university did not come into being until after 1862 with the passage of The Morrill Act.

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

There are a lot of reasons, but the one relevant to our discussion about health care is that federal financial aid creates portability and allows students to choose (in concept) to attend any school in the country. I have two degrees from private schools and two degrees from a public school. Why did I choose those schools? Because in each instance it offered the academic program I wanted to pursue. Federally funded financial aid guaranteed that I had a choice. That is higher education’s equivalent of a “public option.” (now this isn’t the place to argue about the issues in financial aid such as student loan debt, etc–it is beside the point for this discussion).

We come up with this formula, thanks to Sen. Schumer’s insight:

Federal F/A= Choice + Access + Desired University (public or private) + Academic Degree

So when we look at America’s higher education system, a combination of private and public institutions that arguably is the best in the world (granting it has its own imperfections and needs for reforms), which allow the schools to provide their services in a competitive but mutually beneficial market, and provides students (as consumers) a huge amount of choice, both in program and in cost, it is just plain wrong to say that “government” can’t do anything right and to assume that a public option would destroy competition in the health care market.  The success of higher education contradicts the assumption and renders it null.

We Horned Frogs are justifiably proud of our private Texas Christian University. But if I was a bettin’ man, I wouldn’t place a red-cent on a wager that a University of Texas grad, dead-set against the public plan in health care, would admit that his/her “government education” was inferior in any way, shape or form!

Therefore, applied to the Public Option, the formula becomes:

Federal Public Option= Choice + Access + Desired Coverage (public or private) + Appropriate Medical Care

Responses anyone?

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

Go Frogs!

The Myth of the Free Market Health Care Reform

I offer my readers two examples of why the “free market” system alone is systemically incapable of creating or sustaining any semblance of real health care reform:

  1. The free market requires that any product related to health care for real human beings actually is designed to make a profit for the owners/shareholders of that business.
  2. The free market requires that any product related to health care for real human beings actually is designed to make a profit for the owners/shareholders of that business.

That is not a typo.

“Hunter,” one of the contributors to the Daily Kos, wrote a letter to the President making his case for free market health care.  Here are his concluding paragraphs:

So, Mr. President, I write to you with this demand: we are not a socialist country, one which believes the health of its citizens should come without the proper profit-loss determinations. I believe that my healthcare decisions should be between me, my insurance company plan, my insurance company’s list of approved doctors I am allowed to see and treatments I am allowed to get, my insurance company’s claims department, the insurance company doctors who have never met me, spoken to me or even personally looked at my files, my own preexisting conditions, my insurance company’s crack cost-review and retroactive cancellation and denial squads, my insurance company’s executives and board of directors, my insurance company’s profit requirements, the shareholders, my employer, and my doctor.

Anything else would be insulting.

Hunter didn’t make this up.  This is, indeed, the reality of health care in the free market.  I urge you to read the complete letter.  You’ll love the part about the gold-plated utensils and its vital relationship to your health care dollar.

Paul Krugman, Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist, however, just puts the nails in the free market myth coffin:

There are, however, no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn’t work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.

I urge you to read the complete post from Dr. Krugman’s blog.

It really comes down to this.  If you are chuckling, you understand that health care reform is about real people needing real medical care when they need it, without the cost or lack of access costing them their lives or livelihoods.

If you are experiencing blustery consternation and wanting to call me a socialist, communist, or worse (none of which apply, because I am a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist), you need to make a decision.  Do you want to live in a country that is healthy and prosperous because health care is delivered through a collaboration of the government, mission-driven non-profit organizations and private enterprise, or…

Well, do you want to or not?  The myth that free market health care reform will be achieved is dead.  As Paul Krugman points out there are many things the free market can do very well.  Health care is not on that list.

I care enough about you as a person and as an American to support a portion of my taxes being spent to ensure you can get the medical care you need when you need it, because I know in the long run we will be better off–you, me, and 300 million of our fellow Americans.