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Politicians Cannot “Guarantee” Health Care

Opinion Editorial
March 11, 2009

By Brian Schwartz

Politicians cannot guarantee health care, but by trying they can create an unaccountable and toxic insurance monopoly. So beware of Colorado House Bill 1273, which will be heard by the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on March 18. The Rocky Mountain News described this so-called “Colorado Guaranteed Healthcare Act” as a “Canadian-style, single-payer” bill. A recent survey finds that nearly one in four state House members advocate single-payer health care. Their support of such politically-controlled medicine is appalling.

Consider Canadian medicine. The Canadian Medical Association reports that in one year, 71 patients died while awaiting heart surgery and over one hundred others became “medically unfit for surgery.” “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” wrote Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in a decision that decriminalized non-government insurance.

Why expect single-payer to work? As a government insurance monopoly, it has little incentive to please captive customers. As Barack Obama has stated, “capitalism is great for consumers” when they have “many alternatives,” when customers, “not government bureaucrats … are the judges of what best serves their needs.” Single payer is the opposite of “many alternatives,” and it substitutes a bureaucrat’s judgment for your own.

Single-payer exacerbates problems with current insurance. Politicians coddle insurance companies by enforcing a tax code that favors employer-sponsored insurance. Insurers know that for you to buy a competitor’s product you must either change jobs or pay the full premium plus a tax penalty. Single-payer is worse. If you don’t like it, changing jobs won’t help. You must leave the state.

Even if the single-payer bill does not pass, proposing it could make an equally bad policy seem more “reasonable”: mandatory insurance. It’s law in Massachusetts, and it has gained traction in Colorado through the 208 Commission and Senate Bill 08-217.

Mandatory insurance is just single-payer in disguise. As with single-payer, politicians get to define what insurance is. Insurance companies are effectively government contractors for politically-defined insurance.

Mandatory insurance has been a disaster. Massachusetts authorities will “probably cut payments to doctors and hospitals” and “reduce choices for patients,” reports the Boston Globe. The wait to see primary care doctors “has grown to as long as 100 days.” As for insurance, government mandates “drive up costs, making coverage unaffordable.” Residents content with policies that authorities declare illegal “could face a hefty tax penalty.”

Government-controlled health care rests on the belief that health care is a right. It is not. Rights are freedoms of action, not entitlements to what others produce.

Instead of more government controls, Colorado should adopt free-market reforms. For example, Colorado House Bill 1256 would lift a ban that prohibits individuals from buying more affordable insurance sold in other states. Because of state-level mandates, a non-group family plan costs $5400 in Colorado, but only $3,000 in Wisconsin, reports America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Government controls drive up premium costs, subjecting many to Medicaid. Medicaid offers lousy care, fosters government dependency, increases insurance premiums, and devours the state budget. Would taxpayers voluntarily fund such an awful program? If politicians must force taxpayers to fund other people’s insurance, they should replace the Medicaid bureaucracy with a simple voucher – like food stamps, but for health insurance.

Such a voucher would be an improvement, but it would still unfairly compete with charities – as Medicaid does. Every tax dollar for Medicaid is one less dollar taxpayers could donate to charities such as Denver’s Inner City Health Center, Operation Walk Denver, or Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics. Donors should receive a tax credit taken directly from the state Medicaid fund. This would encourage Medicaid administrators to prove that their program is truly effective — just as charities must to earn donations.

Don’t believe politicians’ claims of “guaranteed” or “universal” healthcare. Politicians don’t “guarantee” your ability to buy milk at the grocery store, but you should worry about finding the milk if politicians interfere with free markets. Likewise, politically “guaranteed” health care would threaten our ability to get good care. The Legislature should remove crippling political controls of medicine, not expand them.

This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily, March 8th and the Denver Daily News, March 9th, 2009.