THE SENSIBLE PEOPLE of Oregon last week voted down a universal health care scheme by 79 percent to 21 percent. But while Measure 23 deserved defeat, it shouldn't be allowed to sink quietly into oblivion. It wasn't some fringe initiative, after all: It had the endorsement of the Oregon Democratic party. Before it drops entirely from view, we should register just how ill-conceived it was.

The tradeoff is a familiar one: that tantalizing chimera, free health care for all, in exchange for unfree, centralized control of the practice of medicine.

Measure 23 was too good to be true. At no charge, it would have provided all residents with inpatient and outpatient care, preventive and emergency and diagnostic care, dental and vision care, mental heath, rehab, and long-term care, prescriptions, prostheses, "medically related transportation and language interpretation services," and pie in the sky. All of this to be overseen by a new board.

This entity, the Oregon Comprehensive Health Care Financing Board, would have run the system--and taxed the citizens to pay for it.

According to the 20-page ballot initiative, doctors would have lost the right to bill their patients. They would have been required to "accept as payment in full" the fees determined by the Board. The Board would have set the price of prescription drugs.

The Board would have sought waivers redirecting into its own coffers federal funds already flowing to Oregon for health-care purposes. Then progressive taxes on citizens (except those with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty rate) would have raised the rest of the $20 billion estimated cost. No taxpayer would have been required to pay annual taxes exceeding $25,000.

This board was to have had 15 members, 2 elected in each of the five congressional districts and 5 appointed by the governor. In a nice encapsulation of PC medicine, the 5 would have had to represent consumer advocates, organized labor, employers, health care providers, and alternative health care providers.

Nearly a decade after the Clintons brought down the wrath of the voters with their wild overreaching, Oregon's idealists have received a similar rebuff for what one expert sums up as Hillarycare on steroids.

The thumping defeat of Measure 23 once again leaves the field wide open for reformers who can craft repairs to our highly imperfect health care system that do make sense to voters--improvements consistent with the realities of the marketplace, with human nature, and with the ethical imperatives of caring for the sick.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

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