Monday, June 04, 2007

Important Work in Colorado

A new battle on the socialized medicine front has opened up in Colorado (in anticipation of HilaryCare?).

An official commission has begun investigating options for providing comprehensive healthcare to all Colorado residents. Leading the opposition is FIRM: Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. What is brilliant about FIRM is that they are opposing this proposed legislation on principle, on moral grounds.

Healthcare is not a right. Yes, I said it. You do NOT have a right to medicine, surgery, pain meds, vitamins, exams, labs, cotton swabs, eye drops.

Ah, but healthcare is so expensive! Yes it is. And here is something that is little-known and little-acknowledged, because most of the people who really truly understand this fact do not wanted educated and informed voters, I mean, consumers. The healthcare system as we know it today was created, encouraged, legislated, regulated, and is controlled by the government.

I know a bit about this, having worked in the "paper" side of healthcare. I have seen the reams and reams of paper required to satisfy the latest government "quality" requirements. (Requirements that, by the way, have little to do with quality and more to do with providing a shiny lustrous veneer of quality. Which only works because Americans have been conditioned to this system and trust the government to ensure their safety. But I digress.)

I worked for a medical billing company. I have seen firsthand how and why prices are so high. Any Econ 101 student should be able to figure it out. First, there's Medicare and Medicaid. The government sets those prices, making it illegal to bill them any more than the limit (that's a price ceiling). The insurance companies often index their prices to the going Medicare rates. Doctors often index their prices to the going Medicare rates. These prices have absolutely NOTHING to do with the costs associated with providing that service or drug or piece of equipment. So docs and hospitals take government-imposed losses on lots and lots of services. They make up for it by overbilling the (few) private-pay patients and through their share of tax revenues and creative investments and donations. The government already supports the healthcare industry; is it any wonder costs have surpassed inflation by double-digit factors for the last couple of decades? Remember, price ceilings = shortages.

The real point here is not that government is already inseparable from our healthcare system. (Although I do get more than a bit upset at the fact that so very few citizens truly appreciate this.) No, my real point is simply this: when healthcare is your right, when you have a right to medicine or surgery or bandages, then those who provide them become your slaves. Don't see it? How about: oh no! I hurt my back. I have a RIGHT to get this problem fixed. You, my dear orthopedic surgeon, are morally obligated to repair my back because SOMEONE has to, because it's my RIGHT. Dear surgeon, you must stop what you are doing with your life right now and fix me. Don't go on vacation; don't eat your dinner; don't ever leave the hospital; don't play with your kids. Fix me now. It's my right.

The "right" to healthcare is a perversion of the concept of rights.

"Any alleged 'right' of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.

No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as 'the right to enslave.'"

--Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness, page 96

This battle is worth paying close attention to and participating in even if, like me, you are not a resident of Colorado. As more states adopt or try to adopt some form of universal healthcare, other states will follow. Or the federal government folks will gain encouragement to try again on a national scale. If you value your health, your life, or the health and lives of your loved ones, go to the FIRM website and browse a bit.

I live with two people who need life-saving medications with them at all times. In Brendan's case, he needs to take insulin all the time or he will die. It terrifies me to contemplate what our lives would be like if genuine shortages of these drugs occurred. I know that is what will happen under a system that is impossible to sustain. Have we learned nothing from the downfall of the Soviet Union?

If the idea of universal healthcare sounds warm and fuzzy to you, if you love the idea of making sure that all children are covered (let's do it for the kids!), if you truly believe that it will be cheaper to implement such a system, please reconsider some of the points I've made. Pick up an Economics book (Here's a good one).. Pick up an Ayn Rand book. She illustrates quite clearly how shortages in one industry create shortages in others in Atlas Shrugged. Learn about the reasons behind skyrocketing healthcare costs. Find out about how Medicare really works.

Let's not make a broken system worse. Your life may depend on it.


Diana said...

Thanks for that excellent post, Jen. Too few people know that government sets prices (whether directly or indirectly) in health care. And too many think that doctors are oblige to serve them -- at whatever price.

brendan said...

Loved the post, Jenn -- and it's absolutely true from my recent experience. Government regulations have all but eliminated the positive effect of competition in the healthcare market. I recently had to replace a broken insulin pump, and in shopping around I found out that even though there are 9 manufacturers licensed to sell pumps in the U.S., you can't by any stretch say that it is a competitive market. ALL of them offer a 4-year warranty (by no coincedence, there is a Law that forces your insurance company to buy me a new pump every -- you guessed it -- 4 years). ALL of them sell their product for $6195 (due to the prices being indexed to Medicare reimbursement rates). Can you imagine walking into a Best Buy to get a computer, and seeing that they all offer roughly the same specs, a 1-year warranty, and a price tag of $13,995! Healthcare needs LESS government, not more!

Jenn said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments. I think not appreciating how the pricing works is an unintended consequence of having private health insurance picked up by employers. And of course, Medicare and Medicaid, too. Unfortunately, it's the entitlement mentality, combined with a lack of knowledge and understanding of how markets should work that will make it easy to establish socialized medicine in this country.

I saw firsthand what Brendan went through to get a replacement pump when it broke--it was amazing. Maybe I'll post about that in more detail sometime. Very enlightening.