Monday, April 23, 2012

“The Healthcare Bill – More Drivel”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Healthcare Bill – More Drivel”
April 23, 2012

It is always fascinating to read, from an otherwise intelligent person, what at best can be called blissfully ignorant observations, or at worse nothing more than ideological blather. Such a piece appeared in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Insurance by Alan Blinder, an obviously intelligent, though equally obviously misguided, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and now a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton.

His point, like numerous other left-wingers including our President, is that the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was approved by elected representatives, and therefore should be left alone by the Court. Professor Blinder, of course, leaves unanswered the question that if the Justices are not supposed to determine the Constitutionality of Congress’ laws, what are they supposed to do? (It is a question that does not appear to trouble our President who made the same observation as did Mr. Blinder, though somewhat more bluntly – that Justices should leave alone what Congress has passed and which his lordship has signed.) Or perhaps the professor might be happy if there were only two branches of government? Although I suspect the answer to that depends upon the makeup of the Court. Professor Blinder demonstrates his bias when he cites two other cases that were, in his opinion, decided purely on political, not legal, grounds – Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.

The professor poses a question, which of course has nothing to do with Justices deliberation: “Is it sensible to have nine lawyers decide what sort of healthcare payment system the nation should have?” What’s he talking about? The Justices are simply attempting to determine the Constitutionality of a bill that barely passed and which did not receive one vote from the opposition party. In fact, former Democratic Representative Artur Davis of Alabama said of the Bill: “I think the Affordable Care Act is the single least popular piece of major domestic legislation in the last 70 years. It was not popular when it passed; it’s less popular today.” Even the most leftist of Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Barney Frank, have found aspects they do not like with the Bill.

In general, left wingers have done a far better job than their conservative brethren in cloaking their rhetoric in prose that has mass appeal, often, however, using a phrase that stretches the truth. For example, the professor writes of how this (healthcare payments) is “no small matter. Over one-sixth of our economy is at stake.” And then he tosses in the mandatory words about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness being inalienable, and throws in a zinger: “Access to affordable health care is surely essential to two of these three rights.”

While the founders, being magnanimous souls, would have wished us all to have affordable health care, I am not so certain that is what they meant by declaring that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. Even in those distant times, people needed sustenance to live, yet the founders said nothing about the state ensuring everyone was entitled to having enough food to eat or water to drink. Perhaps Professor Blinder feels that was an oversight, which we should now correct.

It is, of course, because healthcare does represent such a substantial portion of our economy that has those who believe in free markets somewhat nervous. Government is never about efficiency. It will claim to be about “fairness”, but it is really about power. If President Obama really believed in the efficiency and goodness of government he would not have made the generous charitable contributions he did; he would have paid a higher tax rate than his secretary, and then let the GSA administer his dollars.

While my tone may be somewhat cavalier, these are serious issues. For better or for worse, our government is based on a balance between three branches, each of equal importance. We can disagree with those in any branch, but the structure has served us well for two hundred and twenty-five years. President Franklin Roosevelt tried to change what he did not like about the Court and got slapped for his troubles. Mr. Obama has been the second most intrusive of our Presidents in visually showing his disapproval with the Court (once dissing the Justices during a State of the Union speech.) The President’s conduct was, and is, unbecoming, especially for a trained lawyer serving in the nation’s highest office.

Healthcare, like any other service, will never be administered exactly fairly. Man is imperfect, as Immanuel Kant said. There are those who live in greater proximity to good doctors and facilities. There are those who are wealthier and so better able to afford better treatment. The biggest problem with healthcare is that it is not a free and competitive market. Insurance companies are precluded from competing across state lines, with each of the fifty states having their own regulatory procedures. Because the payment system has been based for sixty-seven years on employer coverage, the consumer has been excluded from the payment equation.

Health insurance, were it owned by the consumer, as are auto and home policies, would be portable. Companies should be required to cover pre-existing conditions, but portability would reduce the issue. And, it should be understood, that any requirement such as coverage of pre-existing conditions will mean higher premiums, but that is as it should be. Competition would keep rates reasonable. The other benefit of getting the consumer more involved in the pricing mechanism is that the market would discover that most people want to be insured against catastrophic occurrences, not routine procedures, again much like our home and auto policies. That would cause consumers to be more price conscious when visiting a doctor or druggist.

What is most disheartening about Professor Blinder’s op-ed is the implicit and unspoken disillusionment with the system of free markets that have served this country and its people so well for so long – his recommendation that one sixth of our economy, about $2.5 trillion, would be better off under the arm of government than in the hands of private citizens. For there is no question that the Affordable Care Act is designed to ultimately result in a single payer. He writes that were he a Martian (he sounds more like a Chavezist!) he would find it incomprehensible that those aged 65 or older are provided healthcare, while those that are younger must fend for themselves. First, the professor ignores an estimated 58 million Americans that are on Medicaid. And, second, the 40 million Americans on Medicare have been paying into the system for years. Both systems are destined to go bust; so why does Mr. Blinder feel that adding the other 200 million will somehow fix the system? It makes no sense. It’s pure drivel.

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