Saturday, April 28, 2007

The White Coats are Coming! The White Coats are Coming!

By Captain Capitalist

Yes the nationalized health care craze is rearing it's ugly head again. This is not just another bad idea. If you're a fan of individual freedom and free market capitalism, this is a threat to your very way of life and that's no exaggeration.

Being compassionate people, most would like to see everyone have their basic needs taken care of. This is where the movement gets it's fuel. We don't like to see people suffer, so when somebody points to a suffering person and says "I can fix that" people take heed. But in this case the proposed cure is worse than the disease.

Part of the problem is that health care service providers and advocates have driven demand way beyond what was once considered "basic" need. Once you establish that health care is priority number one and everyone should have it, where do you draw the line? When life expectancy gets to be 150, people dying at 125 will be seen as a tragedy and people will be knocking at your door asking for donations to fund research to prevent it. When one disease or syndrome is cured, the next one in line takes it's place. There is no end, because what people are really trying to prevent is not a particular disease, but death itself.

In a free market there would be nothing wrong with this dynamic. We may get to virtual immortality if the free market is allowed to exist long enough (that's a big if). At first it will be affordable only by the wealthy, then the market matures and prices come down. It only becomes problematic when the government declares that everyone has a right to be as healthy and live as long as the latest technology can enable. It's akin to declaring that everyone has a right to free chocolate provided by the government, or free computer equipment. With no mechanism for stemming demand (i.e. price) working on the recipient, costs naturally skyrocket. Attempts to reign in costs simply stifle innovation and limit production. How many exciting blockbuster new drugs have come out of Canada or Europe in the past couple of decades. Roughly ZERO.

It's not hard to imagine taxes and spending going ballistic, driving what remains of our thriving economy underground. But let's assume I'm way off base about the cost and that we can afford to dole out free, quality heath care to everyone. There's still a big problem. Now that we've established that society is responsible for your health care, society has a legitimate claim on limiting your activities. If you're going to ask me to pay your health care costs, I'm going to insist that you don't smoke, eat too much, eat the wrong things, engage in "extreme" sports, drive a car more than 20 miles per hour, drink a drink over 85 degrees, use sharp objects without a license..... Are you starting to get the idea?

Here's the alternative: We recognize that being human on planet Earth means you're going to get hurt and sick from time to time and at some point you WILL die. Everyone dies. Everyone. Some people can afford cutting edge, top of the line health care. Some can't. In America, the poor and uninsured can get emergency care. It sometimes means the health care provider doesn't get paid, but it's that or let them die in the street. The only thing insurance changes is that instead of the shareholders taking the hit, you and I do. It doesn't create more money. It just shifts liability and risk away from the health care industry. It is not a crisis. Health care providers take into account the financial impact of no-pays and slow-pays when devising pricing. At least now, many low income people only seek care they know they can't afford when they are really in crisis. If you suddenly enable everyone to seek health care 24/7 guilt free, what do you think is going to happen? Picture your localMcDonald's having a Free Food day. Do you think that would result in lots of happy, well fed people? More likely traffic jams, anger, frustration, injury and mayhem.

Free health care may be inevitable if the mob can't be convinced that it's a horrible idea. But it will also be disastrous. If freedom and free market capitalism are to survive and thrive in America we can't sit this one out. This debate must be engaged head-on. The free lunch must be exposed for what it is. Remember, you can't have everything. Where would you put it? (Steven Wright)

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