Thursday, February 28, 2008

Schwartz Criticizes Polis and Government Coercion

The Rocky Mountain News has published Brian Schwartz's Speakout essay on their website on February 26, 2008:
Polis implies he’d represent the worst in us

An ambulance pulls up to a hospital with an uninsured person in need of emergency treatment. Would you donate to a charity that provides medical care in this situation? Would you give because it's right, or because the authorities will punish you if you don't? If you give just to avoid punishment, and live in Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, vote for Jared Polis this November — as he represents you.

Polis pretty much said so himself in a recent Rocky Mountain News Speakout. While arguing for "universal health care," where politicians meddle in choices best left between doctors and patients, Polis writes: "First, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that we have anything close to a 'free market' in health care. A free market would allow the uninsured to die on the hospital doorstep rather than provide them treatment they cannot pay for."

At least Polis recognizes that state and federal laws interfere with a free market. Here he refers to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act ("EMTALA"), which forbids hospital emergency departments from denying care to anyone with an emergency medical condition. Jared Polis thinks that without such a law, such denials would happen routinely, and the uninsured would "die on the hospital doorstep."

According to Polis, a law must compel doctors to treat the uninsured in emergency situations. Is he suggesting that doctors are so heartless and cruel that they would never treat someone for free? Are voters too callous to fund charities committed to funding treatment for the uninsured in emergency situations?

This is unlikely. Consider the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Their 2005 donations exceeded $640 million. Or the Bonfils Blood Center, which has been operating in Colorado since 1943. It reports that "nearly 120,000 blood donors made life-saving donations in 2007." Last year Colorado's "208" Commission on Healthcare reform reported that private philanthropy accounted for almost $200 million in medical care for the uninsured.

Polis writes that we have "made a moral decision not to allow people in our great country to die in this fashion." Not quite. Moral decisions are a matter of choice, not a threat. EMTALA threatens doctors with penalties up to $50,000 for not complying. Hence, EMTALA is effectively a charity funded by the threat of punishment.

So Jared Polis thinks that government must force Colorado citizens and physicians to do the right thing, as we wouldn't do so in a free market. Yet, Jared Polis seeks public office, to represent us, the very people he doesn¢t trust to act morally. If Polis really represents us, then why should we trust him to be ethical? Here lies the fallacy behind the common rationale behind tax-funded charities: "We must use taxes and other penalties to force people to fund these charities because they will not do it on their own." If there aren't enough people who would sufficiently fund the charity by choice, why expect that there would be enough people to elect representatives that would pass laws compelling people to fund that charity?

In any case, government-funded charities are unfair, intolerant, and ineffective.

They are unfair because, just as governments shouldn't subsidize politically-connected businesses, they shouldn’t favor certain non-profits, either.

They show intolerance by forcing all taxpayers to fund someone else's idea of a worthy cause, which leaves them less able to support organizations they themselves judge to be worthwhile.

They are ineffective because, unlike voluntary charities, they are not accountable to their donors, and hence need not demonstrate results to continue receiving money. In fact, the opposite is true. When government charities such as government schools, Medicare, and Medicaid perform poorly, the politically popular solution is to increase their funding, and the opposition is branded as heartless.

Free-market charities are fair, tolerant and effective. Politicians should protect them. But if you prefer politicians who impose their notions of morality on others, vote for Jared Polis.

Brian Schwartz is a resident of Boulder.