Friday, December 29, 2006

Ll on Healthcare

On the way home from work today I heard local liberal radio talk show host Colin McEnroe say he believed that health care was a right that society should provide.

First, many before have discussed how silly it is to describe health care (or any non-natural right) as a right in the first place. After all, if the apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, we'd still have our rights of conscience and free speech but we certainly wouldn't have a "right" to "reasonable" health care. But all that aside, I am sympathetic to the notion that people need quality health care. This, after all, is not a whole lot different from food, shelter and other necessities. If people don't have their basic needs met, there is potential for dangerous social upheaval.

The real question that is never asked is, "what is the most efficient way to provide health care for people?" And any economist will tell you that a free market is the most efficient way to provide goods and services to a disparate group of individuals. We get our food for a free market system and no one seems to be in a hurry to implement the Soviet model of food distribution. Yet somehow health care is supposed to be different. The truth is, it isn't any different in any meaningful sense.

The problem with health care today is that we don't have a free market in health care. Period. People love to get all complex when it comes to these issues, but just look at the issue simply. People have no understanding of their health care costs and no ability to make decisions based on value- therefore, there is no free market. Insurance is part of the problem, with government mandates on insurance making a convoluted system even worse.

Maybe there are some costs that people should be somewhat divorced from- take cancer treatment or the intensive care we get after an accident. But we should be so alienated from our own medical costs that we have no comprehension of what a routine visit to the doctor actually costs us? It's insane if you think about it. If everyone needs routine medical care, why don't we pay directly for that care. We pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars in insurance costs already- why not just pay the doctor and the dentist directly when you go in for your routine checkups? This would cut out the insurance middle man and eliminates all the paper pushers working at the doctors office to deal with the insurance middle man.

These are not complex solutions but a variation on the theme that we should have more control over our health care- more control over the care we get and more control over the costs. And this is not to say that there aren't people out there who can't afford decent health care- there are. But why not help them in the same way we help people who don't have enough food- either through charity or (if government programs are your cup of tea) through programs specifically designed to address the needy.
Beyond the red tape, health care is expensive today because we have better technology and higher quality care. Better technology in food production leads to lower prices because, well, we're eating the same grain. But MRI's, CAT scans, and all sorts of other medical technology didn't even exist fifty years ago, so of course the costs are going to be higher.

I don't claim to offer any solutions when it comes to health care, I just think it would make a lot more sense if we pointed the argument in a saner direction. The answer is more freedom and more choice, not national programs and national mandates.


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