Economically speaking, it is more profitable to let those who cannot afford health insurance die, but that philosophy is highly reproachable in a moral society. I support universal health insurance; individual rights, however, must be considered in any such plan, which leaves a government-run program a dangerous option.
A government option will likely lead to a single-payer system with the government as the only provider of health care insurance, which is not entirely bad in itself. While politicians say the government option is supposed to drive down the price of health care, this will most likely not be the case.
For example, if an unbeatable competitor (the government) enters the bread market (health insurance) selling bread at a much lower price, he does not drive down the cost of wheat (health care).
Instead, the new unbeatable bread seller temporarily runs a loss by offering bread at a price below his wheat costs while other competitors (private insurers) fail to sustain such losses and go out of business. This is all to say that although the price of bread will be lowered temporarily, the new competitor has failed to address the actual cost of wheat, resulting in high wheat costs with only one bread seller.
If our health care insurer becomes a single-payer government entity, individual rights concerning lifestyle choices will not accurately reflect the cost of these people to the health care system.
The United States spends approximately $2.1 trillion on health care annually. Of that, more than 30 percent of direct costs (and as much as 75 percent indirectly) are attributed to alcohol and smoking — this doesn’t even include obesity.
Obesity, alcohol and smoking increase health care costs tremendously, as each risk factor has diseases directly related to it and could increase the risk of other illnesses, whether minor (the flu) or severe (cancer).
The unhealthy consumption of alcohol, food and tobacco is an individual’s choice up until the point of addiction. But a single-payer system overlooks this fact by making health care a public good.
When creating public goods, governments attempt to tax the users of that good the most. For example, taxes on gasoline and car registration fees pay for roads because those purchasing gasoline and registering vehicles are the same ones using the streets. Conversely, a sales tax on iPods would not apply.
With health care as a public good, however, people do not pay based on how much they need, but rather on how large their income is. The proposed health care funding method resembles an income tax.
Poorer people tend to have poorer health because of their inability to pay health insurance and medical bills; thus, they need more coverage in health care. But lower-income brackets will pay less for their health care than higher-income brackets.
Because health care reform looks to provide health care to those that cannot afford it, this construct ostensibly makes sense. But the funding method overlooks the individual rights of Americans, such that lifestyle choices are not accounted for in the funding methodology.
The use of alcohol and tobacco is an individual right enjoyed by people since our nation’s founding (with the exception of the failed Prohibition era). It also lies within someone’s personal right to eat fast food and never exercise.
Those who exercise and refrain from alcohol, cigarettes and unhealthy food are far less likely to encounter health issues, whether indirectly or directly linked to those health factors. It is therefore unjust to charge everyone for the health care costs that actually relate to a specific person’s individual choices.
Health insurers do generally charge those who live healthy lifestyles less. But the public good scenario puts the government in a position to force people who make healthy personal choices pay an inequitable fee to ensure other people’s rights to smoke, drink, eat unhealthy foods and generally not take care of their bodies.
To rectify uneven expenses, it is in the government’s best monetary interest to charge those with less healthy lifestyles more money through substantially higher fees on alcohol, tobacco and “unhealthy” food, as arbitrarily defined by government.
The government should make a substantial effort to insure every American and lower health care costs in general. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal established a great program in his state that is lowering health care costs tremendously by increasing completion among insurance companies, and augmenting hospital competition and transparency. While this system does not cover everyone, something similar could easily be adopted across the US to decrease costs.
Universal coverage must be attained, but not at the expense of individual rights. If both parties will stop playing politics and actually get some intellectuals to help them out, health care reform can be realized in an efficient manner.
Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in mathematics and economics.