DeMint’s Health Handouts Violate Liberty

The following article originally was published in the July 20, 2009, edition of Grand Junction’s Free Press.

DeMint’s health handouts violate liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Memo to Republican Senator Jim DeMint: tax-subsidized health welfare is not “free-market reform.”

DeMint touts his “Health Care Freedom Plan” as an alternative to President Obama’s political takeover of medicine. The plan contains some good ideas. It reduces political controls of insurance by allowing people to buy policies out of state. It limits frivolous lawsuits. And it allows people with Health Savings Accounts to use pre-tax money to purchase insurance.

Part of the plan, however, forces some people to finance other people’s health care. That’s not freedom, it’s a threat to throw people in prison if they don’t pay up.

Real freedom in medicine means that patients, doctors, and insurers have the right to voluntarily interact to mutual advantage, free from force, fraud, and political controls. Real freedom means that you may choose to pay for somebody else’s health care if you want, but others may not force you to pay for their care.

The problem with American medicine is that over decades politicians have seized control of much of medicine, driven up costs, and largely destroyed the market for real health insurance by tying most people to expensive, non-portable, employer-paid insurance.

In order to “solve” the political failures of the past, today’s Democrats want to extend their power over medicine by increasing tax subsidies, forcing people to buy politically-controlled insurance, and subjecting doctors to ever more controls.

Now that Lady Liberty needs her Knight in Shining Armor more than ever, some Republicans have busied themselves instead with stabbing freedom advocates in the back.

It was, after all, Republican Mitt Romney who advanced the political takeover of medicine in Massachusetts. That state forces people to buy insurance — though many there continue to buy it only when they face expensive medical procedures, as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial points out — and massively subsidizes health expenses with tax dollars.

Massachusetts suffers from exploding costs and doctor shortages, so naturally Democrats want to duplicate that failed experiment on a national scale.

To his credit, DeMint rejects insurance mandates. Yet a core part of DeMint’s plan shares Obama’s premises that some must be forced to pay for the medicine of others.

DeMint’s bill 1324 creates a “refundable tax credit” for non-employer insurance of $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families. That’s a great idea for those who would simply get a tax break, as it would offset the tax incentive to get overpriced insurance through employers.

The problem is that those who pay less income tax than that would get a subsidy or voucher, in other words a handout.

DeMint disingenuously claims that his vouchers will generate “no cost,” as he would redirect “stimulus” money to fund the vouchers. But this is merely changing the recipients of the forced wealth transfers.

The “stimulus” special-interest spending should be stopped immediately, and the federal government should reduce its spending to match so that the real economy can direct those resources productively.

Given the better points of DeMint’s bill, are we overly critical of the handouts? The problem is that, by granting the premise that some people should be forced to fund the health care of others, DeMint ultimately grants the entire case to his opponents.

Individuals have the right to their own labor and income. It is wrong to rob Peter to pay for Paul’s health care. Forcing some to finance the health care of others violates the rights of those paying the bills and breeds abusiveness and irresponsibility among recipients. DeMint’s handouts ignore those truths.

So long as Republicans play the handout game, they will correctly be seen as “me-tooing” the Democrats, and they will continue to lose, step by step, inch by inch, to those who would subject the entire economy to political controls.

DeMint’s handouts also distract attention away from the fundamental problem: health insurance is too expensive because of political controls. You solve that problem by repealing the controls, not by hiding them behind another welfare scheme.

In a Fox interview, DeMint praises the market, says “Americans don’t want more government in health care,” and lauds competition. But a tax-funded free market is a contradiction in terms. If people buy insurance with tax dollars, politicians will continually seek to expand political control over insurance, rather than roll back those controls. Thus, DeMint’s handouts will tend to diminish the free market for insurance, not augment it.

We applaud DeMint for looking seriously at ways to redress the problems of politically-manipulated health care. We especially like his reforms of Health Savings Accounts and lawsuits. We agree with DeMint when he says, “No American should be forced into a government-run system that limits their choices and rations their care.”

To successfully restore free markets, though, DeMint needs to do something other than promise more handouts. He needs to unequivocally champion the individual’s right to his own life, resources, and property.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits from the Denver area.