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Watch out for politicians promising us new 'rights'

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted June 25, 2001

Even liberal Michael Kinsley, formerly of the New Republic and now editor of "Slate," expresses astonishment at the way the Republican Party -- onetime purported champion of limited government -- is going along with the heavy-handed notion of a "Patients' Bill of Rights."

"Republican complaints about the Democratic bill are limited to the issue of lawsuits. It's hilarious -- and, I suppose, inspiring -- that no major Republican is out there saying, 'No. This violates my most basic free-market principles. Insurers should be free to offer any deal they want and consumers should be free to take it or leave it,' " Mr. Kinsley writes in his weekly column for The Washington Post.

Mr. Kinsley also correctly diagnoses the sleight-of-hand now at work in disguising the true costs of this newest layer of government meddling, and who will pay them: "Nobody denies that the cost of these new benefits will ultimately hit the beneficiaries in the form of higher insurance premiums. But nobody who supports the bill plays this up, either."

In fact, what we are seeing in this (really extremely limited) debate over a new form of government meddling in the health care industry is just another demonstration of von Mises' Law. The celebrated Austrian economist figured out decades ago that government interventions in the free market only trigger strings of unintended consequences, which inevitably lead for calls for new government interventions to fix the problems caused by the initial government meddling ... et cetera ad infinitum.

During and immediately after the Second World War, the United States government froze most wages in this country, supposedly as a measure to limit war "profiteering." (This from the government that appropriated the design for the Jeep from those who invented it, let the Jeep contracts to well-heeled corporate campaign donors, and allowed the firm whose engineers invented the Jeep to build ... little trailers to be pulled behind the Jeeps.)

In fact, of course, trying to halt employers from bidding competitively for the most desirable employees is like passing an ordinance that makes it illegal for bricks or other dangerous objects to fall from great heights. American employers simply lured away the employees they wanted by offering them an additional value the government had forgotten to freeze -- health benefits.

Thus were health benefits inextricably bound up with the American workplace, where previously Americans had paid for their own doctors visits out of pocket -- or gathered together in fraternal organizations to contract with provider physicians, a strategy which the American Medical Association long and vehemently decried.

So now, congressmen score political points by shouting that they're shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that Americans can lose their health coverage when they lose or change their jobs, insisting that something be done.

That something turned out to be the Health Maintenance Organization, of course, a business enterprise with which no one is actually obliged to contract, but which will generally insert in its contracts (in order to hold down costs) a method for resolving disputes over "refusals to provide coverage" other than going to court.

What? Expect sick people to be bound by some "contract"?! So here comes Congress again, riding to the rescue, attempting to dictate whether and when such contracts should be binding, and when patients should be allowed to go play the lawsuit lottery ... no matter what so-called "contract" they've signed.

A better solution, of course, might be to allow health care consumers to form negotiating units based on something other than the workplace -- buying their health care with the strength of numbers provided by the Elks, perhaps, or the Moose, or the Odd Fellows or the International Order of Foresters.

Oh wait, that's the way it used to be done 90 years ago, before the AMA went to the government and lobbied against such "pre-paid health care," insisting that the only route to quality was "fee-for-service." Isn't it?

Government will never repair its meddling in the health care field with more meddling. The problems will only be solved by collapsing the whole charade, like the riggers dropping a circus tent after the last performance of the night.

Let the doctors charge cash, if they want, offering stout discounts for patients "who don't make us bother with insurance companies." Let them prescribe whatever drugs they want, instead of maltreating chronic pain based on the perverse and fantastical premise that "We're going to pretend mankind has never discovered the opiates." Let insurers compete in a free market, offering as much or little coverage as they like. Government's only role should be to prosecute outright chicanery and fraud.

Food is necessary for health and survival, too. Are Americans starving because Congress isn't rushing to pile more regulations on our "Nutrition Maintenance Organizations?" Or do all us "amateurs" just pick a free-market supermarket of our choice, and get along just fine?

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to Privacy Alert, 1475 Terminal Way, Suite E for Easy, Reno, NV 89502 -- or dialing 775-348-8591.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Health care policy: Unintended consequences by David M. Budge (June 25, 2001)
    David M. Budge is distrustful of the Patients' Bill of Rights given the past history of health care reforms. Each one always brought new problems along with it

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