Free Markets, Free People

Jonathan Alter

Health Care Reform Now A Moral Obligation

Once again the reasoning in support of a federal overhaul (and takeover) of national health care has shifted. It started out as a fiscal imperative with Pres. Obama claiming that our money woes were caused by the rising costs of health care. We were told that only government can contain administrative costs and deliver efficient, effective care. Later is was the need to control greedy insurance companies who treat their clients shoddily by denying coverage. Government run care would make sure that nobody was denied insurance, and that we would all pay basically the same rates. Of course, the infamous public option was touted as the primary tool for accomplishing this goal, carefully eliding past the “fiscal sanity” reasons for reform, which option has apparently been set out to pasture after facing fierce public resistance.

Yet, despite a full-court press on the issue, including unapologetic assistance from the media, the government’s plan(s) to change health care have grown steadily less popular.

So now the reasoning shifts again. As it turns out, you all are just bad, immoral people if you don’t approve of the government taking your money and running your health care.

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.

“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.

Well, the President would know about bearing false witness, now wouldn’t he.

In any event, Obama’s attempt to turn this into a moral debate is not only a naked act of desperation to save his pet cause, it is also the closest to the true reason why health reform is so important to him, and the left in general, in the first place. Supporters of government-run health care are convinced that the presence of a profit motive in the delivery of health services is a bad thing and that wringing every last ounce of market incentive from the process will lead to wonderful new outcomes. And the way they are prepared to sell it is by pushing the idea that health care is a civil right.

Interestingly enough, Jonathan Alter started the ball rolling on this score just a few days before the President (it’s almost as if they are reading from the same playbook or something!):

The main reason that the bill isn’t sold as civil rights is that most Americans don’t believe there’s a “right” to health care. They see their rights as inalienable, and thus free, which health care isn’t. Serious illness is an abstraction (thankfully) for younger Americans. It’s something that happens to someone else, and if that someone else is older than 65, we know that Medicare will take care of it. Polls show that the 87 percent of Americans who have health insurance aren’t much interested in giving any new rights and entitlements to “them”—the uninsured.

But how about if you or someone you know loses a job and the them becomes “us”? The recession, which is thought to be harming the cause of reform, could be aiding it if the story were told with the proper sense of drama and fright. Since all versions of the pending bill ban discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, that provision isn’t controversial. Which means it gets little attention. Which means that the deep moral wrong that passage of this bill would remedy is somehow missing from the debate.

[...]

The only thing that should be unbreakable in a piece of legislation is the principle behind it. In the case of Social Security, it was the security and peace of mind that came with the knowledge of a guaranteed old-age benefit. (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush got slam-dunked when they tried to mess with that.) In the civil-rights bills, the principle was no discrimination on the basis of an unavoidable, preexisting “condition” like race.

The core principle behind health-care reform is—or should be—a combination of Social Security insurance and civil rights. Passage would end the shameful era in our nation’s history when we discriminated against people for no other reason than that they were sick. A decade from now, we will look back in wonder that we once lived in a country where half of all personal bankruptcies were caused by illness, where Americans lacked the basic security of knowing that if they lost their jobs they wouldn’t have to sell the house to pay for the medical treatments to keep them alive. We’ll look back in wonder—that is, if we pass the bill.

Just to focus the argument, Alter is suggesting that it is a violation of individual civil rights, akin to discriminating against someone on the basis of race (wow, didn’t see that coming), to deny one insurance because one is sick. This is ludicrous on a number of levels, but that it fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of insurance is one of its worst features. Insurance is meant to protect against the expense of unknown outcomes by paying a small premium based on the statistical probability that one will suffer such an outcome. However, if one of the outcomes already exists then the insurance premium would simply be equal to the cost of treatment since the probability of payment is 1:1. In Alter’s world,and that of too many government health care supporters, insurance isn’t a risk management tool, it’s a medical discount and income redistribution tool. Which leads to the primary failure of his argument.

In briefest terms, health care cannot be a “right” because it is entirely dependent on someone else providing it to you. “Rights” do not ever involve taking from someone and giving to someone else. In order to believe otherwise, one would have to believe that doctors are actually slaves who can legally be commanded to fulfill one’s “right” to health care or suffer the consequences. The very idea is preposterous, which is why, as Alter notes, Americans have not kenned to the idea of there being a “right” to health care.

And yet, this is apparently the ground, this moral Waterloo, upon which Obama will choose to support his cause. The offensive will depend on the idea that a government health care plan is a moral obligation, and a protection of civil rights. Naturally, some imbecilic politician will assert that opposition to the plan is an immoral position, seeking to demonize (yet again) those naysayers who aren’t too keen on more government interference in their lives. After all, why not? They’ve already accused us of being, alternately, well-dressed plants for the insurance lobby and ignorant, racist hicks who just can’t stand having a black man in the White House, and look what those lines of argument achieved. I predict that this latest attack will be equally as effective.

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