Free Markets, Free People

Peter Singer

Rationing Health Care

Peter Singer has popped up again and he engages in telling us a simple truth about health care – no matter what system you have, health care will be rationed.  Well, for those of us who understand supply and demand we’ve always known health care would be rationed.  When you have 800,000 doctors in a country of 300 million, it isn’t really that difficult to figure out.

However, that’s really not Singer’s point.  If you read through his multiple page piece, you’ll find that he is of the opinion that government bureaucrats would be much better at rationing than would private bureaucrats.  And he attempts to make his point by selectively offering facts that will back his position.

But this amazing paragraph pretty much represents where he believes we must go with our health care reform (and indications are our politicians implicitly agree given the goals they’ve set for “reform”):

Of course, it’s one thing to accept that there’s a limit to how much we should spend to save a human life, and another to set that limit. The dollar value that bureaucrats place on a generic human life is intended to reflect social values, as revealed in our behavior. It is the answer to the question “How much are you willing to pay to save your life?” — except that, of course, if you asked that question of people who were facing death, they would be prepared to pay almost anything to save their lives. So instead, economists note how much people are prepared to pay to reduce the risk that they will die. How much will people pay for air bags in a car, for instance? Once you know how much they will pay for a specified reduction in risk, you multiply the amount that people are willing to pay by how much the risk has been reduced, and then you know, or so the theory goes, what value people place on their lives. Suppose that there is a 1 in 100,000 chance that an air bag in my car will save my life, and that I would pay $50 — but no more than that — for an air bag. Then it looks as if I value my life at $50 x 100,000, or $5 million.

Frankly, this paragraph should make your skin crawl. Because what Singer is doing here is presuming we all accept that others, those nameless bureaucrats he’s so fond of if they happen to be from the government, now have the job (and duty) to decide what your life is worth. Not you. Not your family.

No, what Singer proposes is reducing your life to an arbitrary worth beyond which “they” are not willing to pay to save it. Whether you are or not is apparently not a factor in such calculations.

Singer goes on:

Nevertheless this approach to setting a value on a human life is at least closer to what we really believe — and to what we should believe — than dramatic pronouncements about the infinite value of every human life, or the suggestion that we cannot distinguish between the value of a single human life and the value of a million human lives, or even of the rest of the world. Though such feel-good claims may have some symbolic value in particular circumstances, to take them seriously and apply them — for instance, by leaving it to chance whether we save one life or a billion — would be deeply unethical.

“Deeply unethical” for whom? Certainly not the person with the desire and means to do what they feel is necessary to extend their life or the life of a loved one. They, of course, would value human life above the arbitrary level which Singer and “economists” calculate.

But Singer’s premise here is they shouldn’t have that right. Because other’s don’t have the same opportunity. It would be “deeply unethical” for some to be able to “buy” what others can’t afford. So instead, the ethical thing to do is have everyone held to the economically calculated standard, whether they have the means and desire to do otherwise or not.

Of course we can argue this philosophically for decades, but the point remains that rationing is a feature of any health care system. What isn’t a feature of every health care system is choice. What Singer is actually proposing is taking the choice that now exists in our health care system away and putting everyone under the arbitrary rationing guidelines calculated by government.

He says as much in his next paragraph:

Governments implicitly place a dollar value on a human life when they decide how much is to be spent on health care programs and how much on other public goods that are not directed toward saving lives. The task of health care bureaucrats is then to get the best value for the resources they have been allocated. It is the familiar comparative exercise of getting the most bang for your buck.

The best bang for “your” buck? It’s no longer “your” buck at that point. It is the government’s buck and you have no choice in how it will be spent or “saved”. You will, however, be on the receiving end of any decision.

And where that leads (and where Singer was going with all of this to begin with) is found here:

As a first take, we might say that the good achieved by health care is the number of lives saved. But that is too crude. The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old, and this should be reflected in our priorities. We can accommodate that difference by calculating the number of life-years saved, rather than simply the number of lives saved. If a teenager can be expected to live another 70 years, saving her life counts as a gain of 70 life-years, whereas if a person of 85 can be expected to live another 5 years, then saving the 85-year-old will count as a gain of only 5 life-years. That suggests that saving one teenager is equivalent to saving 14 85-year-olds.

Pretty darn predictable, no? This is the logical end of Singer’s rationing policy. Utilitarian calculation based on arbitrary worth. And the inevitable decision to ration in such a way as to deny the elderly because they just aren’t “worth” it anymore.

And that, per Singer, would be very ethical.

Trust me, those collectivist premises are what will drive government run health care’s rationing. Given the goals (more coverage, less cost) they must. Choice will eventually be driven out of the system and, as they must, bureaucrats will decide how long you will be allowed to live.

Count on it.

~McQ