Critical Condition

Obama Supporter Unwittingly Advocates Free-Market Reform

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D., Md.) got a piece of the town-hall action last night. Most of the participants interviewed in this local-media report opposed the federal take-over of access to medical services. For “balance,” they interviewed a chap in a “Change to Win: Obama” baseball cap. His message: “We have such a barbaric system — that somebody loses their job, they lose their health care.”

I prefer the adjective “idiotic” to “barbaric.” (Government deciding which citizens live and which die is barbaric.) Nevertheless, he’s got the right problem but the wrong solution. The government has given our employers monopoly power over our health benefits. The solution is not to make us dependent on the government, but to give us the same pre-tax dollars that our employers enjoy, so that we can decide which health coverage to buy.

Many fear this because they anticipate that insurers will kick them out once they become sick. Nothing could be further from the truth: If the individual market was the market of first resort, nobody would buy a policy that was re-priced every year (like it is in the group market). We’d buy policies with long-term stability of rates.

As John Goodman points out, this already exists in a critical insurance market that is dominated by individual policies: life insurance. Did you ever hear of a life insurer dropping a policy-holder once he’s diagnosed with HIV/AIDS? When was the last time you heard a politician promising to fix the “crisis” of life insurance? There simply isn’t one.

If we can get over the shouting, these town halls are a great opportunity to communicate real reform to citizens.

— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.