The following article originally appeared in the June 24, 2009, edition of Grand Junction’s Free Press.
Reject political control of health care
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
Medical decisions can be made by voluntary agreements among patients, doctors, and insurers. Or they can be made by politicians and their appointed bureaucrats. President Obama hopes for more of the latter.
While details remain sketchy, the centerpiece of Obama’s plan is a “public” option, meaning that taxpayers would subsidize more health care, probably amounting to well over a trillion dollars over the coming decade.
Calling these forced wealth transfers “public” is misleading. Generally hospitals, doctors’ offices, and insurance plans are already open to the public. Any member of the public is welcome to ask for these services and pay for them. But in Obamaland “public” means something different: it means that some members of the public can force other members of the public to help pay for their health care.
Recently Obama said that his “public” plan would “ensure coverage for people where the free market system fails.” He said, “We’ve got to admit that the free market has not worked perfectly when it comes to health care.”
The reason that the “free market has not worked perfectly” is that there is no free market in health care, nor has there been one for many decades, Obama’s magnificent lie notwithstanding. The problems with American medicine arise from decades of political interference in medicine — so of course Obama wants to expand such interference.
Between Medicare, Medicaid, and other tax-funded programs, government spends nearly half of all health-care dollars. In addition to driving up federal spending and threatening financial catastrophe in coming years, such programs increase health costs for everyone else by loading down doctors with paperwork and red tape, underpaying doctors, and artificially increasing the services demanded.
The federal government has entrenched employer-paid insurance through tax policy. Lose your job, lose your insurance. This especially screws people who develop medical conditions and then lose their jobs. Because of the tax incentives, such insurance also encourages people to run everything through insurance, which again drives up prices by increasing paperwork and decreasing the incentive to monitor costs. It would be like buying auto insurance that covers oil changes and tire rotations.
Among the many other political controls of medicine, both state and federal governments impose all kinds of insurance mandates, driving up insurance premiums and pricing many out of the market.
So, now that federal politicians have completely screwed up the private insurance market, they want to provide tax-funded insurance. How generous.
But Team Obama is clever. In further destroying the free market in medicine, Obama nevertheless adopts the rhetoric of capitalism. He said, “If the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it will keep them honest and it will help keep their prices down.”
In the context of a free market, open competition indeed encourages companies to remain innovative and cost-conscious. But we are not talking about a free market here. We are talking about the federal government essentially knee-capping private insurance companies and then forcing people to pay protection money to finance the political plan. It is the “competition” of gangsters.
Obama dismisses as irrational “fear, that somehow once you have a public plan that government will take over the entire health care system.”
Really? The logic behind the plan is to punish private insurance providers and tax-subsidize the “competition.” Such a plan is just a back-door approach to eventually establishing “single-payer,” meaning the federal government assumes responsibility for most medical payments. And he who pays the piper calls the tune. What the federal government finances, the federal government controls.
If you think we’re stretching, watch the YouTube video, “The Public Plan Deception — It’s Not About Choice.” In the past Obama professed support for single-payer. Earlier this year Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said she agrees that “the public option will put the private insurance industry out of business and lead to single-payer.”
We agree that insurance companies play too great a role in our health decisions and fail to offer the best kinds of insurance. Again, this is strictly a result of federal interference in insurance, and the solution is to get politicians out of the insurance industry, not let them take it over completely.
Obama has also been clever in tying the political takeover of health financing to tort reform. Obama told doctors that, if they get on board, he will do something about “excessive defensive medicine,” referring to the insane and unjust law suits often brought against doctors that raise costs for the rest of us.
But if the legal system needs reform — and we agree it does — that should be done for its own sake, not used as a club to force doctors into compliance.
Political interference in medicine caused the problems. You’re crazy if you think more of the same will solve those problems. And you’re putting the health, finances, and liberty of the rest of us at grave risk.