Citizens Taking on the Government

IT WAS P.J. O’ROURKE WHO SAID THAT “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” I think of that quote when I ponder the Medicare Laboratory Competitive Demonstration Project and the twisted reasoning of the faceless bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) who created this byzantine scheme.

P.J. O’Rourke is one our nation’s foremost political satirists. He is currently the H. L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and regularly contributes to The Atlantic Monthly. Some of our erudite readers will likely recall that, in his day, H. L. Mencken was an acerbic commentator on government and culture in the United States. So, O’Rourke’s observation above is in keeping with a long American tradition of pointing out the nonsensical and often counterproductive actions that regularly emerge from our government.

The Medicare Laboratory Competitive Bidding Demonstration Project certainly meets that description. It is a bad idea made worse by a bureaucracy that has an agenda which directly conflicts with the needs of the patients that the Medicare program is chartered to serve. As designed, the bidding demonstration violates the spirit of the laws that called it into life. Further, recent court documents filed in the lawsuit by the three San Diego laboratories attempting to get a federal judge to review this demonstration project are laying open to public scrutiny the willingness of federal officials to ride roughshod over the law.

To read these documents, informed by an understanding of the design of the competitive bidding demo, is to see, firsthand, the exercise of power, with little respect to the full constitutional rights of the healthcare providers to be affected by the demonstration project, nor the negative effects likely to be foisted upon those Medicare beneficiaries in the San Diego area who will be denied their choice of laboratory.

That is why the lawsuit filed in federal court by Sharp HealthCare, Scripps Health, and Internist Laboratory is a worthwhile step by the laboratory profession. Too often, it is only through the courts that citizens and private companies are able to constrain government power. As the public documents in this court case now reveal, Medicare officials overstepped their bounds. Now it is up to a federal judge to study the law and make a ruling. Whatever the outcome, it was important for the laboratory profession to take this step and serve notice to CMS officials that they should carefully follow the law.


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