Ronald Bailey at Reason objects to Ezra Klein’s objection to Charles Krauthammer’s repetition of the rightist canard that government-funded health care will lead to rationing.
“Look at Canada,” says Charles Krauthammer. “Look at Britain. They got hooked; now they ration. So will we.”
So do we. This is not an arguable proposition. It is not a difference of opinion, or a conversation about semantics. We ration. We ration without discussion, remorse or concern. We ration health care the way we ration other goods: We make it too expensive for everyone to afford.
Ezra should have stuck the adverb “reasonably” before “arguable.” Because despite the name of the publication he writes for, Bailey does argue that market-imposed rationing is not rationing. The problem, Bailey condescendingly informs Klein, is that he is “confused” about the definition of rationing:
Like most left-leaning folks, Klein clearly doesn’t know the definition of rationing. Take this one from Britannica:
Government allocation of scarce resources and consumer goods, usually adopted during wars, famines, or other national emergencies.
Klein evidently thinks that market outcomes that he dislikes mean that government should step in and impose outcomes that he does like. All right, let’s admit it; the health insurance market and the rest of health care are royally screwed up as a result of decades of government interventions and mandates. Consequently we don’t actually find the usual benefits of falling prices and improving products and services that we experience in normally operating markets where robust competition and choice reign.
Huh. Bailey apparently thinks that “market outcomes” happen by chance, or by natural law, or the laws of physics. He apparently believes that when insurance companies jack up their premiums, or force people to choose between sky-high deductibles and Cadillac coverage or lower deductibles and Edsel coverage, that is not the result of deliberate policy decisions. He also seems to have fallen hard for the notion that health care is just like any other consumer good — that when your child is up in the middle of the night with appendicitis-like symptoms, you can go out and comparison shop for doctors and hospitals the way you would if you were in the market for a new car, or a washing machine, or a graduation present for your nephew.
If these were not life-or-death, wellness or illness issues we are dealing with here, I would find it amusing that the same market ideologues who so passionately defend the profit motive will simultaneously defend the proposition that the medical and insurance industries will forgo their profits if their customers can’t afford the price. Of course, no one would expect an appliance store to give away a washing machine or drastically lower the price to accommodate a customer who really, really needed a new washer but couldn’t afford to buy one. By the same token, no one, we are told, should expect a doctor to provide free treatment to a woman who has breast cancer and will die without the treatment, or an insurance company to cover her medical expenses, even if she doesn’t have the money to cover them herself. Doctors and insurance companies have a right to be paid for the hard work they do and the expertise they provide.
And they do. Of course they do. Truly, they do. And yet, a washing machine still seems to me to be less essential than the life of a woman with breast cancer. But if it’s true that a public health care option is absolutely unthinkable in any way, shape, or form, because it will unfairly compete with private insurance companies and take away their profits and force them to go out of business, then we are left with what we have now — the private insurance industry, which has the right to be profitable and has no obligation to be a charitable enterprise or put compassion above making money.
That’s why I, in my leftie foolishness and naiveté, believe that health care should not be bought and sold like any other commodity, product, or service, because it is substantively, morally, ethically, and essentially different from any other commodity, product, or service. This is not to say that there is no place for the private insurance industry. But they cannot be the only game in town. Because that breast cancer victim could be me, or my daughter, or a close friend, or another congregant in my synagogue, or my next-door neighbor. Whoever she is, I know this much: She is not a washing machine.