All-Seeing Olympians

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 10:08 AM PST

ALL-SEEING OLYMPIANS....Ezra Klein responds to David Brooks:

Meanwhile, a question for Brooks. He asks, "Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat — an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?" Can he — can anyone? — name the sponsored piece of legislation, or even proposed piece of legislation, that would appoint "an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?"

Well, in fairness, here is Ezra himself glossing Tom Daschle's description of his proposed Federal Health Board:

Appoint a politically insulated board of doctors and academics and advocates and stakeholders and let them make decisions informed by expertise and experience, much of it private sector experience. It's an idea that substantially limits congressional authority over the health care system....What Daschle is offering is a decision-making body insulated from political pressures and profit considerations, imbued with the power and funding to gather real evidence, and run by trusted authorities, and thus able to lay claim to real legitimacy.

"All-seeing team of Olympians" is obviously hyperbole, but the fact is that many of us who support national healthcare do indeed support the idea of a technical body that would set standards for treatment, including the kinds of medicines that a national plan would pay for. I happen to think that's a reasonable alternative to the mess we have now, but it's hardly unfair for Brooks to disagree.

(Technically, of course, doctors could still prescribe anything they wanted even if some governing body declined to put it on the federal government's formulary. But for most people covered by a national plan, medicine that's not on the formulary might as well not be available, so this is a fairly thin distinction. What Brooks really ought to be asking himself, though, is whether the all-seeing Olympians who currently work for insurance companies are preferable to all-seeing Olympians who work for the federal government. It's not really clear why they would be.)

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