Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Free Health Care For Everybody

In the January 30, 2012 issue of our local newspaper, the TimesDaily, there was a photo of some graffiti left by an Occupy Oakland participant in California. The graffiti consisted of the exact words I used for the title of this post: “Free Health Care For Everybody.” Now who could disagree with that statement? Everybody likes free stuff, and given how expensive healthcare can be these days, getting it free would be a great money saver.

So, how do we start? What plans must we put in place to make this worthwhile venture a success? Well, a good place to start would be to ask doctors to quit charging for their services. Most of the cost of healthcare most likely resides here since millions of people visit doctors of one type or another every day. I suspect that they will object to this and try to convince us of how expensive it was to attend medical school, how much money it takes to rent a space for their practice, and how they must pay for equipment, utilities, malpractice insurance, staff salaries and benefits, and a myriad of other things. Well, don’t be fooled. Healthcare is too important a commodity to be left to the vagaries of a free market with the greedy doctors trying to actually make a profit. But we can expect most if not all doctors to claim that supporting their families is more important to them than helping the rest of us. So, we must be prepared to force them to provide their services without recompense.

The same will have to be applied to hospitals and all the people that work for them. And let’s not forget about all those pharmaceutical companies. We will have to forcefully make it known that we still expect them to spend billions of dollars developing new lifesaving drugs, but provide those drugs at no cost to the public.

We can expect retaliation from all these medical professionals in the form of strongly urging the rest of us to provide our services to them for free also. They’ll probably say something like, “Food is just as important to a person’s health as is medical care. Since we don’t have any money, and we need food to survive, we should have our food provided for free. And while we are at it, we also need housing and transportation. So, give us these things also.” No matter how logical their arguments may be, we must stand strong and insist that they pay us for the goods and services we provide while they continue to provide their services at no cost to us.


Well, as you can hopefully tell, I’m being facetious. There isn’t any such thing as FREE healthcare. And for that matter, there is no such thing as having any goods or services that cost nothing. What the Occupy Oakland graffiti writer really means is “free healthcare for me at somebody else’s expense.” So, how would that work?

There have been many methods suggested for how to provide universal healthcare within the US. Some methods are already being used in other countries. But the bottom line for all of these methods is that some people pay nothing, some pay less than the cost of the services provided to them, some pay the same as the cost of the services provided to them, and some pay more than the cost of the services provided to them. So, it ends up being a great deal for some and a terrible one for others.

You might ask, “Isn’t that exactly the same result people get when buying insurance?” And indeed, the answer is “Yes.” Insurance is one of those strange commodities that people purchase with the hope of NEVER getting their money back. But, there is one major difference. Insurance is voluntary; a government program is not. There has been a lot of controversy lately about the Constitutionality of an individual mandate for health insurance. In other words, is it Constitutional for the federal government to force all individual citizens to purchase some form of health insurance?

I personally believe that it is extremely UN-Constitutional for the federal government to force its citizens to buy ANYTHING, including health insurance. But even if it were Constitutional, I believe it can ultimately lead to some very bad consequences, such as taking away many of the freedoms we currently enjoy. It may take many years for the problems to manifest themselves to an unacceptable level, just as communism took many years before it failed in the Soviet Union. However, I believe the problems will eventually come.

Suppose we implement a healthcare plan here in the US that provides all people with any medical services they need at any time. Almost immediately all of those expensive procedures that people chose not to have done due to the cost will be scheduled. Over time, as more and more procedures are done, the authorities will begin to see that there is more money being spent than being taken in. Choices will have to be made. Charge everybody more for their “insurance,” or cut costs in some way. Most likely both will occur. They will begin paying doctors and hospitals and drug companies less for their goods and services. This will cause some on the edge to go out of business, and it will most likely affect people in rural areas the most. Eventually, the feds will begin to realize that they cannot cut payments anymore and will try to ration care to cut costs. This will upset many people who will have to forego medical procedures that could help them. Additionally, the feds will also realize that many of the procedures that people are getting relate to bad lifestyle choices. They will begin pushing for regulations on a number of different fronts. Some of these would be: smoking, fat and sugar intake, alcohol consumption, and the amount of exercise people are getting. So, little by little our healthcare will dwindle as our lifestyle choices become more and more regulated. In other words, we will become less free.

When people buy insurance, they do so with the knowledge that certain activities on their part can lead to their insurance costing more than another person’s. For instance, if a person is a smoker, they will pay more. If they are overweight and already have high blood pressure and high glucose levels, they’ll pay more. If they are into extreme sports, they’ll pay more. But the individual’s lifestyle choices remain his or her choice. On the other hand, the tendency for government plans is for the leaders to begin mandating actions rather than charge people differently according to risk.

So, which would you rather have? Freedom or “free” healthcare? I’m afraid the evidence points to a fact that many simply refuse to accept: WE CAN’T HAVE BOTH.

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