The health-care debate continues. We have now heard from nearly all the politicians, experts and interested parties: doctors, drug makers, hospitals, insurance companies, even constitutional lawyers (though not, significantly, from trial lawyers, who know full well "change" is not coming to their practices). Here is how one humble economist sees some of the main arguments, which I have paraphrased below:
- "The American people overwhelmingly favor reform."
If you ask whether people would be happier if somebody else paid their medical bills, they generally say yes. But surveys on consumers' satisfaction with their quality of care show overwhelming support for the continuation of the present arrangement. The best proof of this is the belated recognition by the proponents of health-care reform that they need to promise people that they can keep what they have now.
- "Forty-five million people in the U.S. are uninsured."
Even if this were true (many dispute it) should we risk destroying a system that works for the vast majority to help 15% of our population?
- "The cost of treating the 45 million uninsured is shifted to the rest of us."
So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we are harangued about the 45 million people lacking medical care, and on Tuesday and Thursday we are told we already pay for that care. Left-wing reformers think that if they split the two arguments we are too stupid to notice the contradiction. Furthermore, if cost shifting is bad, wait for the Mother of all Cost Shifting when suppliers have to overcharge the private plans to compensate for the depressed prices forced on them by the public plan.
- "A universal plan will reduce the cost of health care."
Think a moment. Suppose you are in an apple market with 100 buyers and 100 sellers every day and apples sell for $1 a pound. Suddenly one day 120 buyers show up. Will the price of the apples go up or down?
- "We need a public plan to keep the private plans honest."
The 1,500 or so private plans don't produce enough competition? Making it 1,501 will do the trick? But then why stop there? Eating is even more important than health care, so shouldn't we have government-run supermarkets "to keep the private ones honest"? After all, supermarkets clearly put profits ahead of feeding people. And we can't run around naked, so we should have government-run clothing stores to keep the private ones honest. And shelter is just as important, so we should start public housing to keep private builders honest. Oops, we already have that. And that is exactly the point. Think of everything you know about public housing, the image the term conjures up in your mind. If you like public housing you will love public health care.
There are many more gems in the article!!