Thank You, Mr. Stossel!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In a series of recent columns, John Stossel has been ably and valiantly tackling the numerous fallacies and misconceptions behind the current drive for socialized medicine. In his latest installment, he looks at the notion that we all "need" medical insurance (of the kind many of us have today) with a jaundiced eye:

America's health-care problem is not that some people lack insurance -- it's that 250 million Americans do have it.

You have to understand something right from the start. We Americans got hooked on health insurance because the government did the insurance companies a favor during World War II. Wartime wage controls prohibited cash raises, so employers started giving noncash benefits, like health insurance, to attract workers. The tax code helped this along by treating employer-based health insurance more favorably than coverage you buy yourself.
Now this is nothing new to me or to many fellow advocates of fewer government controls for the medical sector, but remember that it is necessary (and often missing) historical context for most people.

This background also sets up Stossel's very good explanation of what is wrong with so many Americans having medical insurance. Here is just part of a superb explanation of the overhead insurance companies face, as well as how low deductibles encourage over-use of the medical care that is available by those who don't really need it.
[I]nsurance is a lousy way to pay for things. Your premiums go not just to pay for medical care but also for fraud, paperwork and insurance-company employee salaries. This is bad for you and bad for doctors.

The average American doctor now spends 14 percent of his income on insurance paperwork. A North Carolina doctor we interviewed had to hire four people just to fill out forms. He wishes he could spend that money on caring for patients.


Imagine if your car insurance covered oil changes and gasoline. You wouldn't care how much gas you used, and you wouldn't care what it cost. Mechanics would sell you $100 oil changes. Prices would skyrocket.
Read the whole thing -- and remember these excellent examples the next time you find yourself talking to someone who is a little confused about the "need" for universal rationing -- I mean "coverage".

-- CAV


Burgess Laughlin said...

Stossel offers a pro-capitalist intellectual activist additional ammunition in the fight against statist medicine. However, his ammunition is only technical. He addresses the nature of insurance and some of the statistics.

What is missing is reference to a fundamental principle of a free society: I have a *right* to my life, my liberty, and -- especially pertinent here -- my property. No one has a right to take that from me as long as I act in a peaceful and honest manner.

Even deeper is another principle that is missing here and from almost every attack on socialized medicine that I have read: The immorality of committing aggression against tax victims.

Statist medical care is politically wrong because it violates one's rights. It is immoral because it is based on aggression.

It is ironic that the most fundamental principles receive the least attention. A movement that continues to do that is unlikely to succeed in stamping out not only this or that particular statist program but statism as an ideal -- and the altruism that underlies it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for bringing up that very important aspect of the fight against socialized medicine.

Indirectly, the clarity of Stossel's arguments here and your point bring up another: We should strive to make our fundamental arguments for a more capitalistic medical sector just as clear and obviously relevant to the average, intelligent person as possible.

What Stossel does is appeal to reason and to one's implicitly-held values. as far as he goes, he does very well. But I agree with you that more than technical details need addressing.

Jim May said...

Gus is right. We need to make our principled arguments not only clear, but relevant to the current audience.

Rather than merely point out the shortcomings of Stossel's presentation, we should take advantage of what he does give us. Use Stossel's work to illustrate and validate the moral arguments he misses.

When you see someone like Stossel leave out the principles, get going and *add them* wherever you can, in blog comments, trackbacks, letters to editors, etc.

Gus Van Horn said...

This is something I often take it upon myself to do here, even if only by noting the "missing pieces".

I guess I was so impressed by the lucidity of this piece (and the interesting angle of it being a bad thing to have insurance in certain contexts) that I forgot to do so.

It was a good catch by Mr. Laughlin.