In Health Debate, Left and Right Need to Check Premises

The following article originally was published on August 3, 2009, by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

In health debate, left and right need to check premises

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Hundreds gathered at the state capitol last Tuesday to protest the further political takeover of medicine. On Wednesday more than a thousand gathered in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

The left has also been vocal. Around the time of the rallies, Rep. Diana DeGette released a speech praising Democratic “reform,” and assorted columnists joined in.

Obviously, our sympathies tend toward those who protest Obamacare. (Your junior author gave a speech at the Denver rally that you can view at However, while we criticize the left, we also disagree with various sentiments expressed by the right.

We’ll begin with the left, where snappy but bogus statistical arguments continue to defy reasoned analysis. DeGette claimed that the United States has “one of the worst results in infant mortality.” Ed Quillen of the Denver Post wrote that the French pay less for health care for better results. “We pay considerably more to get shorter lifespans and more dead babies,” he wrote.

But obviously health care is only one of many influences on life expectancy (which continues to rise here). Diet plays a large role; Americans tend to carry around more extra pounds. Economists Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider point out that relatively high rates of car crashes and homicides depress U.S. life expectancy. By Quillen’s logic, politicized medicine can also cure risky driving.

The U.S. beats France hands down when it comes to cancer survival or access to health technology.

As Sally Pipes and others point out, infant mortality is recorded differently in France than it is in the U.S. Here an infant with “any sign of life” that then dies counts as an infant mortality. France adds a viability standard, so the same infant that counts as an “infant mortality” in the U.S. may count as a stillbirth in France. Ronald Baily adds that more infants tend to be born underweight in the U.S. because more teens have children here.

DeGette and Quillen damn American doctors precisely because they heroically try to save infants that in France would be discarded.

The left suffers worse ideological problems. Mike Littwin, also of the Post, argued last week that equality-driven, politically-run health care is a moral issue.

We quite agree it is a moral issue. It is immoral to seize people’s resources by force. It is immoral to forcibly override the independent judgment of doctors, patients, insurers, and consumers and to nullify their agreements. We oppose politically-run medicine because it violates morality. Moral health care respects people’s rights of liberty, property, and voluntary association.

Unfortunately, the right also veers off track. Previously we wrote about the failings of Republicans like Mitt Romney, who pushed through mandatory, subsidized insurance in Massachusetts, and Jim DeMint, who advocates different health welfare.

Many at the Denver rally urged members of Congress to “read the bill first.” We agree, but politicized health care threatens our health and liberty even if they read the bill.

Some opposed Obamacare because it may include tax financing of abortions. Yet this is a side-line issue. We get the eerie feeling that some on the right would accept bureaucratic medicine if it came packaged with an abortion ban (a possibility that should give the left pause).

We join the many calls for tort reform, but again that’s not a fundamental issue. Reining in law suits won’t fix the problems caused by political interference in health funding, delivery, and insurance. Still, we do want to weed out frivolous suits while compensating damage resulting from negligence.

One of the speakers at the Denver rally, Preston Gibson of the Jefferson Economic Council, eloquently argued that the “public option” would drive out private insurance.

Unfortunately, Gibson also claimed that “employer-sponsored health insurance has been the foundation of the highest quality health care on earth.” Wrong. Employer-paid insurance is the product of federal tax manipulation. It is non-portable. It is expensive because it encourages people to use insurance for routine care rather than unexpected, high-cost emergencies.

American medicine is great despite the IRS-promoted employer-paid system. We should move away from employer-paid insurance to individual policies. We support the expansion of Health Savings Accounts to allow the purchase of insurance with pre-tax dollars.

Jeff Crank, organizer of the Denver rally, likewise made many admirable points. However, he also claimed that the “right kind of health care reform” includes “eliminating the pre-existing conditions exclusion.” We take this to mean imposing more political controls on insurance companies.

When insurers are forced to take people with pre-existing conditions, many people wait to buy insurance until they get sick, undermining the very purpose of insurance (and leading to Romney-style mandates). The real answer is to remove all the political controls of insurance that have mostly destroyed the market for long-term policies.

Too often neither the left nor the right gets it. The name of our favorite health policy group summarizes the essential values we must protect: Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine.