Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
President Barack Obama announced this week that he would
nominate Alabama physician Dr. Regina M.
Benjamin to be the next Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Benjamin has
been widely praised for her professional accomplishments and her dedication to
providing much needed health care services to impoverished rural families in
the Gulf Coast
region of Alabama.
She has been appropriately commended for founding and running a rural health
clinic in the small town of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, providing free
or low-cost health services to the estimated 40 percent of residents without
But, what arguably led President Obama to choose Dr.
Benjamin for the Surgeon General post is her long-running advocacy for a
restructuring the American health care system that would include greater
government regulation of private insurance plans, and an expansion of public
health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
We hope that Dr. Benjamin will take a lesson on the
appropriate role of government from one of her own seminal experiences: the
destruction and re-building of her health clinic after Hurricanes Georges in
1998 and Katrina in 2005. According to news accounts, Dr. Benjamin relied
primarily on her own initiative and personal funds—mortgaging her home and
maxing out credit cards—to rebuild the clinic after both storms.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands
of Gulf Coast residents waited in vain for
disorganized and ineffective relief assistance from federal, state, and local
governments. A maze of often contradictory rules and confusion over which
government agency was in charge of which projects left many Gulf Coast
residents stalled in uncertainty for many months after the disaster. On the
other hand, millions of other affected residents did not wait for government
assistance. Instead, like Dr. Benjamin, they used their own initiative and a
combination of private markets and civil society organizations to solve their
own problems and begin rebuilding their lives.
The question now confronting Dr. Benjamin is whether America
would be better off with more ineffective government programs and bureaucratic
entanglement or with greater individual initiative and the services of
dedicated and caring health professionals?
Do we want more top-down mandates that make the practice of medicine more
rigid, or fewer controls and greater freedom for innovation and change? The American health care system does need
reform, but an expansion of governmental control and restrictions on private
initiative will make it harder, not easier, for Americans to obtain the quality
health services they need.
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