“Health care is a tough issue for conservatives only because they have strayed from their free-market principles.” —Michael F. Cannon
Conservatives have been taking a beating lately over their opposition to the massive expansion of SCHIP, the government run socialized health insurance program for the “children” of the “working poor.” Of course, the bill would have spent billions to cover adults and to raise the definition of working poor to an income level that is considered wealthy for purposes of the Alternative Minimum Tax. This could only appear rational in the machinations of politics.
So why are conservatives getting such a bad rap for opposing such obviously bad policy? Because the bill includes the word children in its title. Why, if you’re not for this bill, you are an evil, child hating snob that wants the poor to die and blow away. At least, that’s the rhetoric from the bill’s supporters.
But conservatives deserve part of their bad reputation on health care. Why? As explained by the Cato Institute’s health policy expert Michael F. Cannon in this article, conservatives have allowed our health care system to become a quasi-private “quasi-socialized mess” by standing on the sidelines of this issue for way too long.
Cannon’s prescription for conservatives includes:
- “Think freedom, not universal coverage.”
- “Health-savings accounts are not enough.”
- “Don’t “improve” welfare programs — cut them.”
- “The lefties aren’t always wrong.”
- “We’ve already got socialized medicine.”
- “The health-care industry does not want free markets.”
- “Fight health with health.”
I was intrigued by Cannon’s contention that conservatives sometimes incorrectly reflexively oppose thoughts from the Left simply because they come from the Left.
“HSAs don’t do enough to contain medical spending. Medical errors do kill thousands of patients every year. Health outcomes aren’t noticeably worse in (fully) socialized medical systems. Private Medicare plans do cost taxpayers more than traditional Medicare.”
But Cannon also says that acknowledging these facts does not mean that conservatives must agree with the Left’s proposed solutions to these problems. Quite the contrary. Cannon scatters a host of remedies for the ills of our current health system throughout his article. Many of them are aimed at drastically reducing government involvement in health care and transferring responsibility directly to consumers.
Cannon says, “Reforms that don’t give consumers ownership of that money or don’t tear down government barriers to consumer choice (including the choice to spend that money on things other than medical care) should be suspect.”
Before you trash this statement, look at what Cannon has actually written and look at his reference material. He actually has proposals that would infuse our current lethargic system with incentives to improve rather than incentives to make the status quo worse. While not everyone would be covered up front, Cannon says the proposals aim “to make health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.”
But what about the poor? Cannon suggests “eliminat[ing] all federal entitlements and return[ing] the money to states as flexible, fixed-dollar block grants” as we successfully did with welfare.
Reading between the lines, it is obvious that part of the reason conservatives have gone socialistic on health care is that they have accepted lobbying money and favors from “the industry’s entrenched interests” that benefit from our current under-competitive system. Cannon notes, “It’s no accident that the health-care industry has spent more money lobbying Congress than has any other industry for the past ten years.”
Cannon says that free market principles can still carry the day in the health care debate. He says that “conservatives should challenge the lefties to explain how — contrary to all experience — more government would serve patients rather than special interests.” He says they should point out “that there is no evidence that expanding health insurance, such as through SCHIP, is a cost-effective way of promoting health,” and that “SCHIP also discourages families from increasing their incomes (lest they become ineligible).”
Right now the Left is on the offensive with a plan to bring more of your life — your health — under the control of the Big Brother — the federal bureaucracy. And many are hearkening to the siren song of increased access and lower costs. They are thinking that surrendering a significant portion of their liberty will not be too high of a cost to pay for this impossible promise. Cannon is saying that conservatives need to return to their basic free market principles and go on the offensive.
“When conservatives return to those principles,” Cannon writes, “health care will again become a tough issue for the Left.”