Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Schwartz Rebuts Polis

Single-payer advocate and Congressional candidate Jared Polis recently wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:
A free market would allow the uninsured to die on the hospital doorstep rather than provide them treatment they cannot pay for. Having made a moral decision not to allow people in our great country to die in this fashion, let us discuss how to more efficiently provide for sensible universal health care.
Fortunately, Brian Schwartz had a fitting response:
According to Jared Polis, a law is required compel doctors to treat the uninsured in emergency situations. Is Polis saying that doctors are so heartless and cruel that they would not treat someone for free? Is he saying that the electorate as too callous to fund charities to pay such that doctors could treat the uninsured in emergency situations?

Apparently, the answer is "yes." 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.
Nearly every physician I've known has gladly waived his or her fee for worthy recipients who haven't been able to afford the bill. I've done so on numerous occasions myself. I don't believe that giving away charity care is the essence of morality (instead regarding it as a tangential issue to the central moral issue of being good at what one does in order to further one's own life and rational values).

But if a patient is a worthwhile human being (and if I can afford the charitable contribution), then I am happy to donate my professional services as a physician. And nearly every physician I know feels similarly.

In contrast a law that forces doctors to provide uncompensated services is just state-sanction theft, and undercuts genuine voluntary charity.