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Government Health Care Would Be a Disaster

Posted By Alan Partis on February 7, 2009

I recently had a conversation with someone who strongly advocated “universal health care.” I’ll call this person “John.” John is a friend of mine who has had a tough row to hoe in life, mostly due what I’ll call self-inflicted wounds, but is generally intelligent, well spoken, and educated.

In all fairness to John, I really think he thinks that everyone should have access to health care at a reasonable price (which is already true in this country). But, under the misguided notion that all health care services are priced too high, what he is advocating is a massive payment program where all health care is provided at some magical ‘affordable’ cost to the patient but is actually paid for with tax dollars. He wants government to step in and institute price controls (much like insurance companies already do) in spite of the overwhelming available evidence that price controls ultimately produce the exact opposite of the desired effect. This is just another example of the woeful lack of economic education in our society today.

I have to admit up front that encountering this train of thought leaves me speechless.

For the moment, let’s leave all the freedom and liberty questions aside while I list why I think the idea is equivalent to failure.

  • Public schools are run by more efficient government bureaucracies than would run the health care payment system. Need I say more on this? Our public schools are clearly not a model for success in government.
  • Insurance companies. Federal government bureaucracy. Either of those phrases by themselves makes me feel all dirty and want to take a shower. Put them together and I want to douse myself in gasoline. As insurance companies have gained more influence over how medical services are delivered, the complaints have grown and the costs have mushroomed.

There’s no need to go further. I can’t fathom even one reason why anyone thinks that adding more politicians into the health care business will somehow cause the quality of care to rise and the costs to fall. I think the law of gravity would be easier to break.

Yet, here was John, lamenting about the need for more government health care (he even agreed that the government run public schools have proven to be a disaster).

John, who does not have the means to fully support himself in the manner that he would like, espoused that other people (defined as those with more money than he) should pay more taxes to cover the costs of his health care. When I pointed out that he was advocating slavery (defined as the coercion of one person to produce for the benefit of another), he not only agreed that it did fit the definition of slavery, and that it was an infringement on my liberty, but that he didn’t care about that. I should be forced to do it nonetheless.

To John, and people like him, government is the answer to every problem because it is government that gives him the power to fight back against “the man” who has been keeping him down all his life. What is amazing about that is that it’s these same people that don’t trust anything the government says or does, but they still buy into the notion that government, when run by the ‘right’ people, is the answer. That perfectly defines the ‘benevolent dictatorship‘ model that was Mussolini’s fascism. Yet, whenever John is faced with logic and reason in a debate, it is he who paints others with the ‘fascist’ brush in an effort to shut down debate (since no one has to listen to anything a fascist has to say). The hypocrisy is simply maddening.

The problem in health care, as I see it, is that the patient is, by and large, not the one writing the checks to pay the medical bills. This is because we’ve lost sight of what an insurance policy is supposed to be: nothing more than a backstop to avert financial catastrophe as a result of a major medical issue. That is how all other insurance policies work, why should it be different for medical insurance?

Even though Lloyds of London has insured Jennifer Lopez’s derriere, they don’t expect to hear from her after every meal she eats or after every workout she misses. They only expect to write a large check if an unfortunate incident involving a large truck and the back seat of her car leaves fitting into her size 4 jeans a distant memory. Likewise, people don’t generally make claims on their auto insurance or homeowner’s policy unless there’s been an accident. No one expects to send a bill for a routine oil change to Allstate, but they do expect their health insurer to pay for most of every visit to a doctor or pharmacist. It is this expectation of frequent use and payment that has so dramatically inflated the cost of medical insurance. It is the impact of price controls, imposed by government through Medicare, Medicaid, etc. as well as the large insurance companies, that has largely contributed to the accelerated rise in costs of medical services themselves.

It would be more efficient for patients to simply pay doctors directly and cut out the middle man who is doing nothing but taking a cut. The savings from lowered premiums would go a long way toward paying for those services. It would also help put the patient back in charge of their own well being. And it would stop forcing doctors to charge more for a given service to one group of people so they can subsidize everyone else who is getting an artificially low price due to the pricing controls put in place by government and insurers. As a result of the reduced insurance paperwork involved, it would also reduce the doctor’s cost of doing business.

A Health Savings Account (HSA) coupled with a high deductible insurance plan is a great solution that is available today. The money saved from greatly reduced premiums can be deposited into a tax-protected account and used for routine medical expenses. Funds remain in the account, which operates much like an IRA, and accumulate over the years until they are needed.

There is no doubt that our health care system in this country could run a great deal more efficiently (in spite of the fact that the health care system in the United States is still the envy of the World) and that the cost of health care is sometimes out of reach for the average citizen. There is no doubt that some people literally must choose death because they cannot afford to pay for expensive procedures which might help them. And there is no doubt that the cost of health insurance and the cost of health care is a leading cause of bankruptcy filings. However, to the extent that those are problems, socializing that part of our economy and putting a notoriously inefficient United States Federal Government in charge of its operation will not produce a satisfactory result from anyone’s perspective.


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