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Whose Business is Your Health Care?

Opinion Editorial
September 4, 2009

By Mark Hillman

Our ongoing debate about government’s role in health care is proving worthwhile because it forces people to focus on the real tradeoffs in a system mandated — if not directly operated — by government, rather than one selected by individuals or their employers. Today, our system is a dysfunctional hybrid.

To the extent that we cannot choose the health care coverage we want today, those restrictions are almost always the result of previous government interventions — tax incentives that make it easier for employers to buy insurance than for employees to purchase their own or laws requiring us to purchase coverage we may not need or cannot afford.

President Obama says all insurance policies will be required to cover preventive care and early screening for various maladies, as if he can force insurance companies — or doctors — to give us something for nothing.

Well, he can’t do that anymore than he can require restaurants to serve a free lunch every Thursday. Even under Barack Obama, Americans cannot be compelled to do business at a loss; they always have the right to lock the doors and close up shop.

That’s why there’s no free lunch — or free health care. Politicians aren’t “giving” us these services; they are forcing us to buy them — and to pay more than the actual cost.

It never ceases to amaze when politicians who demagogue against “greedy” insurance companies will, in their next breath, require us to buy things through an insurance company that we could purchase less expensively if we simply paid out of pocket.

If both you and your doctor know that you need a colonoscopy, how can it possibly be cheaper for you to send your payment to an insurance company, while the doctor files a claim with that insurance company, and the insurance company processes the claim and issues payment — rather than for you to simply pay the doctor?

Yet ObamaCare would establish a mandatory list of insurable procedures as well as maximum deductibles. For those with money-saving high-deductible plans and health savings accounts — like the one I’ve had for 12 years — the President’s promise that we can keep the plan we have just doesn’t wash.

Americans who are understandably frustrated by health care costs are recognizing that the more control you give to government the more control you give to government.

Today, if you, your doctor and your insurer agree on a procedure, you make an appointment and “get ‘er done.” And if you can’t agree, you are free to pursue other procedures that you can pay for yourself. (After all, what good is an extra $50,000 in your retirement account if you’re dead?)

But if no one practices those alternative procedures because omnipotent health care bureaucrats won’t pay for them, you are out of luck.

The larger point is this: Why is it government’s business how much you pay, what doctor you see, or what treatment you receive, so long as you are paying the bill?

Health care, like any commodity or service, will always be limited by economic reality. Government health care programs are responsible for more cost-shifting than all of the “uninsured.” Yet despite paying below-market prices, Medicare will be insolvent in just seven years and has amassed all by itself a deficit of $37.8 trillion.

If the government is empowered to supervise everyone’s health care, then only two outcomes are possible: either everyone’s health care is rationed to control costs or no one’s health care is rationed and the cost of government health care finally breaks the camel’s back, ushering in a worthless dollar, runaway inflation and skyrocketing interest rates.

In either case, our impoverished children and grandchildren will forever curse our self-centered, shortsighted generation.

There can be no health care utopia any more than everyone can enjoy all they want to eat or live in the home of their dreams. Sooner or later, someone must choose between what we want and what we can afford.

Who do you want to make those tough choices — yourself or someone in government?