Competition, Choice Key to Health Care Reform, Says Expert

By Nicholas Ballasy | August 21, 2008 | 3:38 PM EDT

As the presidential election nears, the topic of health care is a high priority item of debate among voters. Currently, the federal government estimates that the government-run program of Medicare is at least $25 trillion in the hole – it needs at least another $25 trillion to cover the people it has promised to cover over the next 75 years, while the relatively new prescription drug program is an additional $8 trillion in the red: $33 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

The unfunded liabilities for Medicaid – government-backed health insurance for the poor – are estimated between $50 trillion and $70 trillion. Those costs are, in part, driving up raising concerns among many Americans about how they can
afford to pay to care for themselves and their families in times of medical need.
With these concerns and the presidential election around the corner, spoke with Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian/free market Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in health care reform, social welfare policy and Social Security.
Mr. Tanner is the author of several books, including Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It, and A New Deal for Social Security. Tanner has testified numerous times on Capitol Hill about health care policy and his commentaries and other writing on the issue have been published in numerous media, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
To watch’s complete interview with Michael Tanner, click here. 
(Editor’s note: Mr. Tanner’s answers below are truncated. To hear his responses in full, watch the video.)
Cybercast News Service: Is there anything wrong with a universal health care system in the United States?
Michael Tanner: Well, we have to figure out exactly what it is that we want in terms of health care reform. We shouldn’t confuse universal health care with universal access to health care and we shouldn’t confuse access to health care with health. At the end of the day, what we want is a healthier America ….
Cybercast News Service: Do you think universal health insurance should be opposed?
Michael Tanner: I don’t think we should pay much attention to whether or not we have universal health insurance. Whether or not we can get a piece of paper in everybody’s hands that says they have health insurance simply isn’t important. I don’t care whether we do or whether we don’t. What is really important is whether we can make health care more accessible to people ….
Cybercast News Service: Critics of universal health care have said the system would be like the DMV, where there would be so many lines and so much bureaucracy to get through. What do you think about that scenario?
Michael Tanner: Sure, all you have to do is look at the health care systems that the government runs today. The VA [Veterans Administration] is a national disgrace. Medicaid? That gives you poor quality at a high cost and Medicaid is $70 trillion in debt; that’s not a very good track record ….
Cybercast News Service: Are there any alternatives that you think would be better than a Universal system?
Michael Tanner: I think what we have to do is, number one, bring down the cost of health care so that more people can afford health care so that more people can get into the health care system and get the care they need. Second, we should be doing things to improve the quality of care and make sure that the people getting into the health care system are getting the best care they can ….
Cybercast News Service: If you have health insurance that you like, can you keep that health insurance under the presidential candidates’ (McCain and Obama) plans?
Michael Tanner: Well it’s questionable under both plans. Under Senator Obama’s plan, he is going to create a minimum benefits package that all insurers would have to meet. So, if you have a plan today and it doesn’t include all the benefits that Senator Obama thinks you should have, you’d have to give up the one you have today and buy the one he thinks you should have even if was more expensive.
Now, Senator McCain’s wouldn’t do that. It would let you have any type of plan you want. On the other hand, because he is going to change the tax preference from the employer to the individual, it could be that your employer decides to stop providing the insurance for you and tells you to go out and get it on your own and you might not be able to get the plan you had ….
Cybercast News Service: Which plan puts a greater burden on the American taxpayer?
Michael Tanner: Senator Obama’s plan is far more expensive. He estimates – his own campaign estimates --  it would cost about $65 billion a year. Jonathan Gruber from MIT, who was a Hillary Clinton advisor, puts that closer to $110 billion a year.  Senator McCain’s plan is only a few billion, probably under $10 billion, mostly because it simply moves the tax preferences around and the subsidies around from one person to another without creating any new subsidies ….
To watch the’s complete interview with Michael Tanner, click here.