Conko to Surgeon General pick: “Focus on Private Initiative, Not Government Controls”

CEI Senior Fellow, Gregory Conko, talks about the nomination of  Surgeon General to be, Regina M. Benjamin. Read the statement here or read it below.

Statement of Gregory Conko, CEI Senior Fellow, on the nomination of Regina M. Benjamin to be Surgeon General

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 health insurance.

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.