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Weighing In On The Health Care Debate

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 18, 2009

During normal times we see no particular virtue in working in the public policy arena. We suspect that those who work in the private sector — creating jobs and building companies — do at least as much for the public welfare as those who work in government.

Yet, exceptional times create exceptional responsibilities, so we’ve tried to weigh in effectively on the health care debate.

At National Review Online, we wrote a piece titled, The Common Carrier Reform, which tried to layout a specific policy program that could help the country:

As a small-business owner, I’ve been selecting group health-insurance plans for a quarter century and living, day to day, with the actual impact such choices have had on my company and employees. In observing this process, I’ve come to the conclusion that two simple changes would both significantly increase access to health insurance and make it more affordable: Require insurance companies to offer their group plans to all companies, and require health-care providers to charge all patients the same rates.

You can read the whole piece here.

Then we wrote a more philosophic piece that ran as part of a cover story in The Weekly Standard. They called the piece, Standing up for Liberty:

The issue that has moral weight is access to health care, not access to insurance. Many people elect not to buy collision insurance for their cars because they are financially capable of absorbing the loss. If Bill Gates wants to go without health insurance and would rather pay as he goes, would virtue be served by forcing him to buy insurance?

The articles were generally well received. Jennifer Rubin at Commentary, for example, wrote a thoughtful piece:

Republicans have been tossing out alternatives to government-centric ObamaCare for some time. They have suggested, among other ideas, that we change the tax treatment of individually purchased insurance plans, reform the tort system, and allow interstate insurance sales. But now Jim Prevor raises an interesting and compelling question: if people want to go without insurance and instead self-insure, why is it the government’s job to stop them?

John Stossel, who recently left ABC for Fox, also picked up on the piece:

This weekend I was cheered to read about two entrepreneurs who made good points about Washington managing health care:

Jim Prevor, CEO of Phoenix Media Network wonders why, because it’s health insurance, not collision insurance for your car, or theft insurance for your comic book collection, government must step in.

The push to insure everyone is… a decision to endorse a risk-averse society. There is little question that if every uninsured family in America were offered a cashier’s check in the amount it will cost to provide that family with health insurance — checks that could easily be in excess of $15,000 each year — and simultaneously offered the chance to sign the checks over to purchase health insurance, many, many families would elect to take their chances and do something else with the money…

Perhaps these families would use the money to start a small business, send a child to college, go to night school, or save a child from a horrible inner-city public school system. Is there any basis for thinking that paying for health insurance is morally superior to helping a family in any of these ways?

Many in Congress believe that. If Americans did, we’d all have health insurance that we’ve already purchased with our own money. Democrats call their national health care insurance plan a moral imperative. But Prevor writes:

Obamacare ought to be defeated because it raises government above the family in deciding how resources are allocated and endorses a vision where the national priority is to protect against risk rather than to grow and explore.

The moral imperative is not making everyone buy insurance. The moral imperative is freedom.

Obviously many people have different opinions on the matter, and this complicated and controversial area is one in which people of good will can reasonably disagree on the various policy options.

We think, though, that in this recessionary environment it is important that businesspeople not retreat into a shell. The policy makers in Washington need debate and input so they can understand how their proposals would really work in the world.

We are reminded of the famous lines in the Mishna by Hillel:

Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

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