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Opening Arguments

Free for all

I miss William F. Buckley's syndicated columns. He still writes occasionally for the National Review, at least. Here, he neatly explains John Edwards' plans to give us all "free" health:

Mr. Edwards speaks grandly about health coverage for 47 million people who do not now have it. But unless there is a diminution in the cost of health services, they will be paid for by somebody. If it is so that the 47 million without insurance are the identical 47 million who are the nation's poorest, then it might be said that all we are really engaging in is more redistribution. There is a case to be made for this, and indeed, redistribution has been accepted for years. The wealthiest 5 percent of Americans pay 54 percent of all taxes, which means they are paying taxes that would otherwise be paid by the 95 percent of Americans whose tax rates are lower.

Therefore, Mr. Edwards is doing nothing more than to call for increased taxes on the wealthy. They used to call that socialized medicine, when it was instituted by Great Britain after the war. It crossed the Atlantic into Canada, which is a tidy country in which to get sick, provided you can afford to travel across the border to an American doctor.

I think we might have reached a critcal mass on universal health care. Too many people say they want it, too many politicians are promising it. Let's see if Republican presidential candidates talk against the idea or offer a "light" version (which would soon become the heavy-duty kind, once implemented).


Thu, 03/29/2007 - 7:25am

We're already paying for it, we're just not getting it at the moment. The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than the rest of the industrialized world.

On average, Americans spend more and get less for their health care dollar than their peers in places like Great Britain and Canada. Our system works very well for the very wealthy, pretty well for people who have decent incomes and a job that allows them access to a good insurance plan at an affordable price, pretty poorly for people with decent or average incomes without access to those insurance plans, poorly for those who have little or no income and qualify for Medicaid, and not at all for those who make too much for Medicaid but not enough to purchase health insurance.

Compared to government administered programs, private insurers spend a huge amount on administrative costs. They have every incentive to try to sign up only healthy insureds and to try to deny as many claims as possible.

Medical pricing is not at all transparent, limiting the ability of the market to control prices, nevermind that market forces are probably not going to be effective in situations requiring immediate life or death choices.

I suppose Buckley is right that a single-payer insurance system would entail a redistribution of wealth. But, a similar argument could be made that things like public schools, public roads, equal access to the courts, and police and fire services also entail a redistribution of wealth.

At the end of the day, I think it's an inescapable conclusion that our current health care system doesn't work very well. If there's a solution that would cause a dramatic improvement with no redistribution of wealth, I'd be open to considering it.

Steve Towsley
Thu, 03/29/2007 - 10:42pm

Buckley wrote:
>Therefore, Mr. Edwards is doing
>nothing more than to call for increased >taxes on the wealthy. They used to
>call that socialized medicine...

I enjoy Buckley, but let's not paint everything as redistribution, or make redistribution synonymous with stealing money from the wealthy, either.

If a successful national chain like Circuit City may be considered among Buckley's "wealthy," isn't firing thousands of employees for the sole purpose of replacing every one of them with people who will work for less a redistribution of wealth too? Of course it is.

Is redistribution to be banned? If it is, we must re-set the economy to some moment before the U.S. corporate stampede into me-too downsizing, Mexican/Indian outsourcing, retirement earnings thieving, and elective bankruptcies.

Until then, I wouldn't get testy about the richest country on earth feeling a moral obligation to provide medical treatment and medicine to its own souls-on-board.