Thursday, January 24, 2008

Health Care Crisis, Big Brother's Best Friend

I was originally going to take a different tact on this piece in The Nation on The Hidden Health Care Crisis, which just so happens to be dental care. Rather than pontificate (or rant as the case may be) extensively on anything in particular, allow me to make a few brief points.

1- Some of the numbers cited are either inaccurate or meaningless. Dental decay affects 50% of children age 6-8? I'll be honest, I'm not sure if dental decay refers to cavities or not, but a childhood cavity is not exactly a medical crisis.

2- The case twelve-year old Deamonte Driver, the Maryland boy who died after an untreated tooth infection spread to his brain, is brought up. Truthfully so, the article laments the fact that $300,000 were spent trying to save him when he could have been saved by a simple $60, $70, $80 dentist visit. Of course, I'm not sure that's such an indictment of the current system. After all, who can't spend $80? Yes, I know people struggle, but a minimum wage worker working full time will earn almost $1,000 a month. Is paying your rent on time more important than the health of your child? Again, I'm not criticizing the fact that people are poor, I'm only pointing out that 80 bucks for the routine dental appointment you should have once or twice a year isn't a bank breaker.

3- The notion of subsidizing dental care drove into my head the real problems that America's poor face. It's not Wal-Mart or China or immigration or George Bush. It's the growing bureaucracy that provides more and more support for people in need rather than giving people the means to help themselves. Think about it- I'm sure plenty of liberals would love a program to ensure the poor receive proper dental care. But look at how many programs we have already. We have food stamps for food, housing assistance and public housing, Medicaid for the poor, and the oh-so frequent calls today for heating and energy assistance.

Liberals, libertarians, and conservatives, whatever your political stripes, just throw aside the questions of whether or not the government should help the poor and how much help they should give for a moment. Let's just start with the assumption that government is going to do something- If that's the case, does it really make sense to craft specific programs for every single problem poor people might face? After all, isn't the problem that poor people are poor- that they don't have enough money to afford all these basic expenses?

Milton Friedman was a proponent of a negative income tax, ensuring a minimum level of income for every American citizen. Dr. Friedman's point was that the current welfare system provided too many disincentives. But let's get even simpler than that. Go back to the list of separate programs for the poor and think of all taxpayer dollars that go into the bureaucratic structure that supports these programs. Wouldn't it be less expensive to have just one department responsible for helping the poor? And think of the poor themselves- Why complicate their lives by making them deal with numerous different agencies just to receive the basic assistance they need?

4- Ideas 2 and 3 up there, when taken into account together, reflect the real problem of adopting a let the disadvantaged help themselves type of system. There's still no guarantee people are going to make the "right" decisions. And this is the real reason behind our big government welfare system- It's all about government control and getting people to make "correct" choices. And this is exactly why the push for more and more government involvement in health care truly scares me- It's not about a deep-seeded resentment of the poor or even a philosophical opposition to re-distributive programs- It's about concern of the growing government power over our everyday lives and a distaste for the big government types who think that they know best as to how we should lead our lives and spend our money.


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