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by John R. Graham | San Francisco Nada Suleman and her eight babies are much in the news, with good reason. There are lessons here for everyone, and they extend beyond the fertility debate. Ms. Suleman is the divorced mother who gave birth to eight babies on January 26. Kaiser Permanente clearly viewed the event as a great PR opportunity, and initially the media touted the miracle of American medical technology. Soon the happy story of the dedicated medical team that safely delivered eight premature babies via Caesarian section (but had only expected seven) surrendered to a tale of irresponsibility and just plain weirdness. The initial gushing over Procter & Gamble offering a lifetime supply of diapers, or Gerber delivering truckloads of pabulum, gave way to disgust that a woman who already had six children might not be able to handle eight more. Experts on in vitro fertilization figured that she must have traveled to Mexico, because an American doctor would likely not implant more than two or three fertilized eggs. It soon emerged that the culprit was a California doctor, yet unnamed but under investigation by the Medical Board and at risk of losing his license. Then people started asking: “Who’s paying for all this?” Even if Nada Suleman’s fertilization and delivery was not paid for by taxpayers (and it likely was not), Kaiser Permanente's other members must have paid for this mega-delivery, which cost around $1.3 million, according to the Associated Press. After all, a managed-care plan is only a pass-through – all costs are ultimately borne by the policy-holders. Nada Suleman finally tried her chances on the morning talk-show circuit. It did not go well. Public opinion concluded that the woman is obsessive-compulsive about having babies, and many suggested that the appropriate medical treatment was psychiatric, not obstetric-gynecological! Unemployed, she had held a job at a state mental hospital, but apparently worked little, instead claiming a disability pension of about $170,000, some of which she invested in cosmetic surgery. As public opinion has it now, Suleman’s employment record makes it highly likely that her premature babies will become dependent on taxpayers. Nada Suleman is only a small symptom of our society’s loss of self-reliance. Let’s focus our outrage on those have brought our entire health care system into bankruptcy: the politicians in Sacramento and Washington who are dragging health care into a fiscal mess that’s going to be difficult to clean up. Last September, the governor signed a budget for 2008-2009 that appropriated $14.5 billion for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents). Including federal matching payments, current Medi-Cal spending is more than twice as much, $39.4 billion. Between 1997-1998 and 2006-2007, Medi-Cal spending increased at an annual rate of seven percent, nearly doubling – and it wasn’t because of more women bearing octuplets. Rather, it was due to politicians’ passion to expand control of health care. The state estimates that 6.7 million Californians – about one fifth of the population - will roll through Medi-Cal this fiscal year. And the infection of government-run health care is about to spread even faster. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer estimates that $11 billion of the “stimulus” bill signed by President Obama on February 17 will go to bail out Med-Cal. But we only get it if the state government spends almost as much, in order to draw down the federal matching dollars. So, we’re looking at increasing government control of low-income Californians’ health-care dollars from about $40 billion to about $60 billion. And our children will pay the debt. The out-of-control growth of Nada Suleman’s family is a tabloid tragedy. But the out-of-control growth of government health-care programs is a tragedy for every California family. CRO John R. Graham is Director, Health Care Studies, Pacific Research Institute

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