Profits are for people
By Richard E. Ralston
Those who advocate for government controls in medicine cry, "People, not profits." They say profits are unacceptable in medicine because our health is so important. But it is precisely because our health is so important that profits must be vigorously defended. If quality health care disappears for Americans, it will have been killed by the perverse morality of those who want to destroy profits and replace them with government force. All free enterprise is considered an enemy of the people because it is based on the pursuit of individual happiness.
If profits disappear from medicine, they will eventually be forced out of all aspects of the economy. For example, the President of the American Jewish World Service recently wrote in the New York Times to advocate for government control of world food production and distribution: "Food is a human right, yet we allow those in power to treat it as a commodity to be bought and sold by profiteers, interested in a quick buck." Our model for abundant food must therefore be North Korea or Stalin's collectivization of agriculture. This has always resulted in mass starvation, but power elites feel morally superior because they have eliminated profits.
Such horrors are possible because the political and journalistic "conventional wisdom" is that profits are evil for everyone (except, of course, for law firms, lobbyists and Hollywood producers). Unprofitable firms are condemned and bailed out. Profitable firms are just condemned.
Acceptance of an anti-profit morality will have the same devastating effects on medical care as it has on the diet of North Koreans. Life-saving new drugs and medical equipment will be forbidden if anyone is allowed a return on investments in them. Allowing patients to die while on waiting lists becomes morally superior to making a profit by saving a life. After all, wanting to save your own life or health is the ultimate "selfish" act.
More opportunities for profits will bring down the cost of health care. Unlike government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, free-market enterprises, in their need for profits, ultimately reduce fraud and waste. As Wal-Mart and its competitors have shown by reducing drug prices and providing affordable walk-in clinics, better and more affordable health care rests on it being profitable. Competition--when the government does not forbid it--promotes better and more responsive care of patients, and the need for profits encourages savings.
Can the government do better? The Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Postal Service are not examples that suggest government will provide more comforting health services.
A Gallup poll on ethics in November 2009 indicated that Americans trust members of Congress less than they trust car sales people. A CNN poll this year indicated that 86 percent of Americans think that government is broken. While Americans might think health care is broken--although many like their own care--do they think a broken government can fix health care?
A front-page story in USA Today in December 2009 reported that fast-food chains have better food safety standards than school lunchrooms. Restaurants more vigorously test for and cook out bacteria and pathogens in beef and chicken than do public schools. Of course, school lunchrooms do not need to make a profit. Can government really be expected to do a better job with health care?
Profits are an important American value without which life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are impossible. Forbidding profit in medical care replaces life with death, liberty with force, and the pursuit of happiness with self-sacrifice. Let's not kill health care and our freedom at the same time.
Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, Newport Beach, California. Copyright © 2010 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.