Philosophical musings of Chic Hollis
The first major step taken in the U.S. toward establishing a way of life where the government directly redistributed income was the passing of the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Act during the Great Depression. Generally known as Social Security today, it provided financial assistance to widows, orphans, and senior citizens over 65 years of age when the average life expectancy of a male citizen born in 1936 was 60 years.
The Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, called the program a disguised Ponzi investment scheme because it took money from contributors supposedly for insurance and gave it to recipients who had contributed little or nothing. Those who were mandatorily required to contribute were promised similar benefits when they or their dependents became qualified. That precarious scheme has worked up until now!
Since then, there have been other progressive steps taken by the government to redistribute income via Welfare, Unemployment Compensation, Food stamps, and Medicare/Medicaid. Each of these methods of solving social problems involves the transfer of income from the worker or his employer (who considers these costs to be part of an employee’s compensation called “Fringe Benefits”) to some stranger in need of financial assistance. Some of this income is taxable to the employee, but all of it is not recorded on an individual’s pay stub as income.
For all intents and purposes, money is siphoned from the income stream that would flow from an employer to a wage earner. The money extracted by the government is used to buy silence from the forlorn, the unemployed, and the poverty stricken citizens who pay little or none of these taxes.
These practices, involving a growing amount of transfer payments each year, have been accepted by the majority of Americans who are genuinely interested in reducing robbery and theft, violent street demonstrations of angry unemployed workers, the number of filthy, idle beggars with their plastic cups, and the agony of those who truly deserve assistance from their concerned neighbors. Fortunately, there are financial caps on the individual amounts of money distributed to the needy so that the gainfully employed aren’t that unhappy over the deductions from their paychecks.
However, a new social problem has arisen which the socialist elements in our democratic society would like to handle with a universal health care solution, the details of which are quite vague and the costs out of sight. Behind this advocacy is the false assumption that all citizens have the human right to be healthy and happy. Such a “right” is obviously not specifically covered by the U.S. Constitution. Recent history from our Medicare/Medicaid experience has shown that the costs of trying to provide reasonable health care to honor this new “right” for senior citizens and the indigent are totally unpredictable and out of control. Why is this? Because the limits of spending in the health care industry are not established per person, but per illness.
Economists have pointed out that any service rendered in an economy where the cost of the service is unknown to the recipient and not paid for directly by the consumer always permits overcharging and other abuses by the providers of the service. Further, several consequences of having such a broad program of health insurance cannot be solved by any socialistic solution without spending billions of dollars. First, people are living longer. Second, the cost of more and more sophisticated medical procedures has been dramatically out-pacing inflation. And third, those who suffer the aches and pains of living are running off to see their doctor about the slightest physical problem. And not all of these folks are hypochondriacs.
Unemployed citizens on welfare or receiving unemployment compensation are not given an unlimited amount of funds to buy the food, the clothes, the housing, and the gas and electricity that they think they need to stay alive. They are given a subsistence amount and a limited time to receive that amount. They have to find a way to survive by supplementing what the government gives them. The same criteria and procedure should be considered for any universal health care program. But, obviously under the proposals being implemented, suggestions about limitations and co-pays are not being broadcast or explained to the unwary public. No one has the “right” to stay alive. It isn’t the guiding principle behind the other assistance programs established by the government and regulated on a per person basis.
The other concern about a universal healthcare system with arbitrary co-pays is the manner in which the unpaid co-pays of those who can’t afford them are handled by doctors and hospitals. Most of the unrecovered medical costs are passed along to those who pay their share of their health care expenses via inflated overhead and miscellaneous charges. Any refusal to offer someone emergency medical treatment due to lack of cash and bad credit is unacceptable in the eyes of the general public. However, the problem of collecting from the uninsured once they are healthy is very serious and a major, hidden contributor to the rapidly escalating costs of general health care. These “bad debt losses” must be recovered from someone: guess who?
The costs of medical care during the last month of the life of any human who suffers a life-threatening or terminal disease are extraordinary and shocking. Under those extreme circumstances no family member goes to various health care providers to obtain the lowest cost estimate from a reputable doctor or hospital. Actually, there is little shopping around for routine health care under the present system once your health care provider has been accepted by your HMO, PPO, or health insurance company.
Any universal health care solution provided by the U.S. Government, such as the one in effect in Canada which many proponents suggest that the U.S. copy, faces serious problems and unique drawbacks. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada has criticized the Canadian health care system. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle of June 10, 2005, “The Supreme Court found that waiting lists (for medical treatment) have become so long that they violate patients’ right to life and personal security, inviolability and freedom…” This article stated that the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in the case before the Court: “The evidence in this case shows that the delays in the public health care system are widespread, and that, in some cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care.”
The article was written by Clifford Krauss for The New York Times and said: “Canada is the only industrialized country that outlaws privately financed purchases of core medical services. The Canadian health care system provides free doctor’s services that are paid for by taxes…” “The Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, responded, ‘We are not going to have a two-tier health care system in this country. Nobody wants that’.” Except all those sufferers who can’t obtain prompt medical treatment that is subtly rationed on a first-come-first-served basis. So much for capitalism in Canada.
Socialism isn’t all that bad for those who get more benefits out of the system than they put into it. However, please don’t make the “me-first” generation stand in long lines to receive those meager benefits! No government run bureaucracy in our country (e.g. the IRS, the INS, and the Homeland Security airport enforcers) is particularly interested in customer satisfaction. They have their important official duties to perform and helping the general public is not as important as strictly following Standard Operating Procedures and implementing regulations.
Not far down the slippery slope comes total reliance on the government who has never been known to be efficient and cost conscious. After universal health care has been adopted, guaranteed annual minimum income after taxes is certain to be next. Cradle to the grave government preoccupation with finding new ways to help us stay alive and pursue our happiness is the proclaimed “right” of all U.S. citizens and those illegal immigrants who know how to take advantage of American compassion and generosity. The sooner our politicians implement the desires of the persuasive socialists the better. Dallying around only increases the deficit and hurts the poor and needy.
In the meantime, don’t take your eyes off the progress we are making in the democratization of Afghanistan and Iraq, the globalization of capitalism, the dispute over abortion and stem cell research, and the never-ending discussions about legalizing the use of marijuana for more than medicinal purposes. This last minor issue challenges our government’s sincerity and honesty in promoting our nationwide objective of pursuing happiness and a healthy lifestyle while prohibiting smoking in public places.