"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Freedom to Save Health Care
Exclusive to STR
March 13, 2009
An analysis of any state program can begin with the long stilled voice of Frederic Bastiat. 'Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.' The current appeal by a section of the public for government subsidized health care exemplifies living at others' expense on steroids.
On March 6, 2009, C-Span's 'Washington Journal' opened the program by inviting callers to answer 'What you're willing to change in your health care? Are you willing to cut your health care? Are you willing to change your doctor? Are you willing to give up something?' Astonishingly, the first 30 minutes didn't yield any sacrificial volunteers. Most of the callers were outraged about their high bills for 'emergency' medical visits or upset that a government plan was not already in place. My favorite call was from a woman on Medicaid who pulled a muscle while exercising. She explained that she was afraid she was suffering a heart attack. She went to an emergency room after hours, was diagnosed with 'the machines,' cleared and later mailed a bill for $8,000.
Even prior to developing a libertarian perspective about the use of force and gaining some fundamental lessons in Austrian economics, a personal experience shaped my attitude about the possibilities of a free market in health care. My graduation from college also marked my graduation from my mother's health coverage. I signed a contract to begin a job in August, leaving my Taekwondo black belt aspirations without a health insurance plan for most of the summer. I briefly considered lying off training, but my 22-year-old judgment led me back into sparring practice. After a black belt's fist to my neck abruptly ended summer Taekwondo for me, I was left to figure out how to deal with an excruciating tennis ball sized knot in my neck. At the time, I had part time income of a few hundred dollars a month and no savings, so I first tried the natural method of over-the-counter pain medicine, hope, and time. When I developed a fever after 36 hours of being unable to eat, drink, or sleep, new debt began looking a lot less intimidating. I had a credit card, so I called a television advertised service for the first doctor's appointment I could get.
On seeing me, the doctor wanted a CAT scan of my swollen neck. I immediately stopped him, explaining I had no insurance. He explained there was too much swelling to examine my throat, but if antibiotics could reduce it, he might be able to see with what he was dealing. He prescribed a two dollar bottle of antibiotics to deal with the infection, and we set a return appointment in a couple of days. The antibiotics reduced my fever, swelling, and discomfort. When I returned for the follow-up visit, he could tell I had no cartilage damage and see that my injury was healing. Time and over-the-counter pain medicine would see me the rest of the way. My total bill was $80 for two office appointments and $2 for antibiotics. We had negotiated this arrangement between the two of us, and I'd been able to pay it with cash in my pocket.
We Americans don't need a single health care plan that covers everyone, especially one forced on us by majority vote. Instead of narrowing our choices, we need more of them ' a lot more. That poor woman who was afraid of dying of a heart attack needed an option, maybe a nurse with a computer in a strip mall store front or some other market-provided option that she could afford. A different individual may have found $8,000 would be a small price for reassurance by six figure equipment and technical expertise, but it wasn't a reasonable option for her or many other individuals who are subject to impulsive behavior. And entrepreneurs who are able to figure out how to provide some level of service at those prices should be free to enter the market ' just as they are with cheap food or cheap clothes -- without harassment by the state or its rent seekers.