The debate runs deeper than tonsillectomies and tort reform
In a time in American politics when liberal Democrats in Washington, D.C. are pushing for the exponential expansion of government, I think it’s important to highlight the importance of and distinction between two ideological scales, the first being the divide between liberalism and conservatism, and the second being the sliding scale between totalitarianism and liberty.
The two are not mutually exclusive. Many who consider themselves right-of-center on the first spectrum actually harbor many statist tendencies, the best example being George W. Bush’s insistence that the government had a role in keeping financial institutions afloat, while many who might place themselves on the left side of the liberalism-conservatism divide seem to understand–for the most part, at least–that the role of government should be relatively limited, two examples being Reps. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Bobby Bright of Alabama.
For all of its faults and frustrations, the ongoing debate over health care reform has provided a fantastically illustrative example of the hallmarks of both spectrums. And there’s no better example of how liberalism, conservatism, totalitarianism and liberty factor into the debate than the failed government-run health care system in Maine, and how two very different news organizations–PBS from the left, and Fox News Channel from the right–approached it.
I feel for John Henderson. I really do. It doesn’t look like he’s living beyond his means. He doesn’t seem like a man just looking for a handout. John Henderson looks, to me, like a hard-working American who has been forced to choose between insulin and breakfast, and found a way out in a supposedly promising state-run health care program. His story tugs at the heartstrings.
However, even the traditional emotional arguments used to argue in favor of radically reforming the health care system in America are flawed in their subjectivity. The story of those like John Henderson who truly cannot afford health coverage under the current system naturally tears at our sense of benevolence and care for the common man. But to focus solely on the plight of those 16 million people who remain uninsured and perceive the Democrats’ plan for health care reform as their knight in shining armor is to forget the story of dozens of millions of seniors and others who will see their benefits change and their costs increase as a result of this administration tossing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater in the name of health care reform.
Not only will the Democrats’ plan lead to rationing of care which will primarily affect seniors in what should be the best years of their lives, but its passage will require hundreds of millions of dollars to be cut from the Medicare budget, the cost equivalent of simply eliminating Medicare altogether for an entire year. Furthermore, as quality of care declines for seniors and every other America, the Democrats’ plan for health care reform will cause costs to rise — as Dick Morris explained to Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren last night, this plan will tax pacemakers, heart stents, artificial heart valves, artificial hips and knees, prosthetic limbs, motorized wheelchairs and more.
Where is the emotional outcry, the demands for justice for the tens of millions of Americans who will see quality decrease and cost increase because the Democrats insist upon destroying the entire system to purportedly benefit a few? Why not tell the emotional story of the grandparents on fixed income forced to move into the home of their grandchildren because Congress made health care reform more about expanding government control and less about health care?
While conservatives make decisions based upon defined principles and concrete facts, liberals rely on a nebulous sense of justice and intangible emotion. Because the left controls most of the media and therefore the vast majority of programming which makes its way into American living rooms, the selective use of emotional arguments like the story of John Henderson can be utilized to tap into the bleeding hearts of liberals and garner support for the Democrats’ idea of health care reform. What the liberals are largely missing, however, is the harsh realities of government-run health care systems.
The harsh reality is that the government-run health care system in Maine, despite being a saving grace for roughly ten thousand people like John Henderson, has in fact failed the remaining 1.2 million residents of that state, including 130,000 still uninsured. The harsh reality is that after only six years the initial guarantees made have all been broken–the program has not covered all of the uninsured, was not paid for by cost savings from waste found and excised, and promises of no new taxes have been abandoned–and the promised, noble goals of decreased costs, unfettered access and better care have gone unrequited. Instead, Maine residents have been left with the same coverage gaps, with a bankrupt system, and with an increased tax burden on top of it all.
Even more, the harsh reality is that the Dirigo Health System, at its creation, looked an awful lot like the Democrats’ plan for health care reform currently slinking its way between closed offices and through shadowy corridors on Capitol Hill.
Those are the facts. Emotion need not apply. And the fate of the Dirigo Health System in Maine, in looking at the underlying facts, has offered an excellent example of the practical distinction between totalitarianism and liberty.
Blind faith in the omnipotence in the state, specifically in Maine’s implementation of the lofty goal of universal, state-run health care, led to more promise than performance. In theory the program sounded fantastic, but in practice the heavily subsidized entitlement program collapsed under the weight of overutilization, essentially a byproduct of Maine residents relying on and placing faith in government rather than taking responsibility for themselves and their own health care costs.
“It doesn’t work,” says Dirigo Health System board member Joe Bruno. “Dirigo has not even come close to fulfilling its promise of covering the uninsured in the state of Maine. We cannot provide this plan to everyone because we’re not getting enough revenue in the plan. There’s not enough cost savings in health care in the state as defined by the plan [in order to] fund more people.”
Perhaps those like John Henderson would have been better served by a health care system which erred on the side of freedom. The liberty inherent in a health savings account would go a long way for diabetics like him, and harnessing the power of the free market and opening up the private insurance industry to interstate commerce will allow people like John Henderson access to the more than 1,700 private-sector companies currently offering health coverage from coast-to-coast, each competing against one another, each clamoring to provide more options at a lesser cost than their competitors in order to obtain business from people like him. Erring on the side of freedom — that’s the way to decrease health care costs for everyone without sacrificing quality of care; that’s the hallmark of true health care reform.
In the end, the current situation in Maine has shown that the answer to reforming health care lies in less government, not more. Less than ten percent of uninsured Maine residents have been helped by the expansion of state government into Dirigo Health Care, whereas the natural decrease in prices which would come as a consequence of fostering competition among insurers in all fifty states and removing government from the equation altogether would likely have provided many more than the 10,000 currently covered under Dirigo to afford their own private health coverage.
In his seventh and last State of the Union address, Ronald Reagan explained to America that “there are a thousand sparks of genius in 50 states and a thousand communities around the nation,” and that “it is time to nurture them and see which ones can catch fire and become guiding lights.” That, friends and neighbors, is the heart of federalism, an opportunity to gain overall strength from the freedom and liberty of individuals and individual states. Regardless of ideology or whether you come from a perpective heavy on emotion or fact, it has become apparent that the Dirigo Health Care System in Maine is not a guiding light. We must ensure that those on Capitol Hill look to other sparks of genius in order to truly reform the American health care system, rather than adopting an extinguished flame in the name of political expediency and disdain for a free America.