Friday, September 7, 2007

More Labor for Political Medicine?

The following article was published originally by Grand Junction Free Press on September 3:

Reformers demand more labor for politically-run medicine

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Some health "reformers" are celebrating this Labor Day by trying to force you to labor more to pay exorbitantly higher taxes. A recent AP story carried the headline, "$26 billion tab to provide health insurance to all Coloradans, panel says."

But that figure refers only to the most outrageous plan. The danger is that the legislature will reject the worst of the five plans under review by the "208" Healthcare Commission, then pass a "compromise" package that massively expands the political control of medicine, but falls short of government monopoly financing.

This is a little like the Mafia threatening to bust your kneecaps with a baseball bat, but then kindly backing down and requiring only "reasonable" weekly pay-offs.

So the question is whether Colorado citizens will cave in to such extortion and allow politicians to interfere even more extensively with their medical choices. Those who value their liberty and their health will instead demand that politicians repeal existing controls that have caused medical expenses to spiral out of control.

One fact that today's health "reformers" refuse to acknowledge is that existing problems with American medicine are caused exclusively by decades of political interference in medicine. Such reformers do not attempt to disprove this fact -- they cannot -- so they simply ignore it. They pretend that the "solution" to the problems caused by political interference in medicine is (drumroll, please) more political interference in medicine.

The federal government imposed tax distortions that entrenched high-cost, non-portable, employer-paid insurance. Health insurance, but not any other kind of insurance, is provided by employers to cover routine, expected expenses, and it is so expensive, because of unjust and hopelessly stupid federal tax policy. To that burden federal and state politicians have added massive tax spending and reams of controls over medical services and insurance. The inevitable consequence? We pay more for worse health care.

Unfortunately, the "reformers" keep trotting out the bogus argument that largely-socialized American medicine is worse than mostly-socialized European and Canadian medicine. Even though politicians have royally screwed up American medicine, it's still partly free, and therefore it's still better. We addressed the international comparisons in our columns of May 14 and June 11. We noted that, by various measures of health outcomes, the U.S. is clearly superior. We also pointed out that one problem with using lifespan as a basis of comparison is that more Americans are obese.

John Stossel points to another problem: "We have far more fatal transportation accidents than other countries. That's not a health-care problem. Similarly, our homicide rate is... higher... When you adjust for these 'fatal injury' rates, U.S. life expectancy is actually higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation." For more on this point, see The Business of Health by Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider.

And yet here's what one "reformer" told Congress earlier this year: "The United States spends more on health care than any other nation in the world. ... Yet the US lags behind many of these countries in life expectancy and health outcomes." The person making that wildly misleading claim is John Sheils. What's interesting about Sheils is that he's a lead analyst for The Lewin Group, the outfit hired by the 208 Commission to "study" the plans.

It therefore comes as little surprise that the plan that shines in Lewin's analysis is the most socialistic one ("single payer") that would let politicians and bureaucrats take over the financing of medicine, thereby in effect making doctors and hospitals wards of the state. (He who pays the piper calls the tune.)

But, according to Lewin, we'd actually "save" money by putting politicians and bureaucrats in charge of medical financing. Do you really believe that government-controlled medicine will remain either cheaper or more effective? Well, pedantic utopians used to claim that the Soviet economy outshined the U.S., too. But government bureaucrats lack the knowledge and incentives to effectively run any business.

It is, of course, possible that a "single payer" plan could save money in the short run, but that's only because it gives bureaucrats the ability to ration your health care. But there are two longer-run problems. First, as special interests kept wrangling over the tax dollars, the bureaucracy would tend to grow ever larger. Second, as "free" health care attracted to Colorado those with high medical expenses and repelled healthier workers who are stuck paying the taxes, expenses would go up as tax revenues slumped.

The cheapest of the other plans, according to the Commission's press release, would start at around a billion dollars per year in tax spending. But the real cost would be much higher, as government rationing, higher taxes, and expanded bureaucracy perpetually eroded our health as well as our liberty.

For more information about what's wrong with health care and how we can fix it by enhancing our liberty in Colorado, please see and