What Took So Long?

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The public reaction to President Obama's health care program is at the same time pleasing, disappointing, and puzzling.

But before we get into that, let's clear up something: Health is a right. It's something inherent in your very life, and no one can intentionally deprive you of it without seriously wronging you. But health care is no such thing. Care, of any kind, is provided by people, and you do not have a right to other people's services, unless you have entered into a contract for such care.

That being said, what is so remarkable about the public outcry against Obama's proposals? It's this: What he proposes is a natural extension of the Medicare program, which has been with us for about 44 years now, and which the public seems to hold in high regard. The program has its critics, to be sure, but they are not complaining about the nature of the program, but details, such as inefficiency, mal-administration, inequities in reimbursement, etc. If the public accepts the idea of government-funded medical care, where is the line to be drawn? When is a good thing too much, and on what basis?

It has always puzzled me that Medicare has, until now, been a program for the elderly. The elderly, to be sure, have greater medical expenses, (their greater use of medical services can, at least in significant part, be attributed to the fact that any service perceived as 'free' is going to be over-utilized), but they have also worked for their entire productive lives in the richest country in the world. How is it, that on turning 65, they cannot pay for their own medical care, but need to have their neighbors (who may be poorer than they are) pressed into service to subsidize it?

Do the town hall meetings which we see on TV, with angry demonstrators against the president's program, presage similar demonstrations against Social Security? If the elderly cannot provide for their own medical care, why should they be expected to provide for their own retirement? Television screens are full of ads for motorized wheelchairs or scooters, which, thanks to Medicare, the handicapped elderly can get with no out-of-pocket expense. But why stop there? You cannot get to the doctor for 'free' medical care in your 'free' motorized scooter. How about subsidized automobiles for the elderly? With little effort, you can produce an impressive list of things people need, which you can term 'rights,' which others must therefore provide. Can you go to the doctor for your 'free' medical naked? Don't you have a right to clothing? Can you maintain your health, despite 'free' care and 'free' drugs, if you are starving? Surely nutrition is a right which the government should guarantee! And what about housing? It's strange that you have a 'right' to medical services, but not these other essentials.

What seems to be the biggest objection to the president's scheme is that it will lead to single-provider health care. In other words, medical benefits will be provided by the government, period. No private insurance. President Obama has favored such a program since his days in the Senate, and if he has his way, that's how it will be. But can there be any doubt that, even if private insurance is allowed, it will be strictly regulated and controlled? Is there any large business in this country that is not so regulated and controlled by Washington ? Are not the companies providing retirement benefits not so controlled? (Incidentally, the government control of private firms is the essence of fascism, not socialism.) Social Security might not be the sole provider of retirement benefits, but the government sets the rules for private insurers.

It's certainly encouraging that the public is concerned about the growth of government, but it's also puzzling and discouraging that the objections do not seem based on principle. What the town hall meetings seem to be saying is, 'I don't want to jump into the fire, but I'm content to stay in the frying pan.' A lethal dose of poison is strenuously resisted, but a smaller dose is quite all right.

Any resistance to the growth of government is good, but how much better if it were based on the nature of man and the nature of government, and not on some annoying details.

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Paul Hein's picture
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