President Obama and the Democrats in Congress cannot give you health. Health is a human good given to you by God; subject to the laws of nature and the strictures of your own constitution; improved or worsened by your own choices and behavior; and aided or preserved, when needed, by recourse to medical treatment. The Democrats are not able to give you health because they have not yet figured out how to assume the more-than-human powers of God and nature.
President Obama and the Democrats in Congress cannot give you medical care. They cannot do so because they are not doctors or nurses. Neither are they pharmacists. They are no more trained in medical science than you are. They have no insights into treating chronic diseases such as cancer or even how to cure your child’s whooping cough. Going to the federal government for medical care is akin to going to the zoo when you need to buy a suit. You may be entertained, but you will not leave with a suit.
President Obama and the Democrats in Congress can try to give you health coverage, or insurance, or they can coerce insurance companies to do so. But they can only do so by forcing us all into the same crummy health plan, the so-called “single payer option” with the government ostensibly picking up the tab. To make this plan even remotely financially plausible and to make things appear “fair,” they must treat everyone the same (equally badly), regardless of differences in age, physical abilities, spirit, and need.
“Share the health” should be their motto. Share-the-health, though, can only result in poorer health coverage, poorer health care, and quite likely poorer health for you and for all Americans.
You are the only one who can be truly in charge of your own health. No one knows your own body, your own physical fitness, your own aches and pains and strengths and abilities, better than you do. You know what triggers your headaches, how much sleep you need, how much fatigue you can endure, when you can “fight” a sickness with over-the-counter medicine and rest and when you simply must see a doctor. No one has more of an interest than you do in keeping fit. No one has more reason to avoid excesses and to “eat your broccoli.” In short, no one has a greater interest in your own health than you.
That reason alone should suggest that you should be the one in charge of your own health care. When you are truly in charge of your own health care you pay for it, like you do everything else you are in charge of. And when you pay for things, you are usually economical in their use. Your paying for your own health care will mean fewer trips to the doctor and less stress on the “health-care system.”
Recently I was suffering from poison ivy. Had you been helping me pay for my health care, you can bet I would have gone to the doctor for a cortisone shot and some prescription ointment rather than clearing it up (over two awful weeks) with Caladryl and cotton swabs. The difference is between the $120 that “we” pay vs. $6.50 that I pay. Multiply that same choice millions of times over and imagine what would happen in a share-the-health health care system: millions of people going to the doctor when they could take care of themselves, millions of other people needing to see the doctor waiting in lines behind every hypochondriac. Economy results in more health care to go around.
As we all know, there are people who do not take care of themselves. They smoke, they drink, they don’t eat right. They are more prone to contract diabetes or have heart failure. They may be good people otherwise, but they are health risks.
You should not have to pay for the health care of those people. It sounds cold and heartless, even un-Christian (the looming taunt of the liberal when dealing with social issues), but it is true. You may be willing to drive them to the doctor. You may be the friend who risks their anger by telling them they need to eat less, exercise, or give up fast-living. But you should not have to pay for their health care.
Why? Maybe it is because you are selfish and, if the market allowed, as a regular exerciser who eats right could get a better deal on health insurance. Or maybe, just maybe, you would like those people who do not take care of themselves, not to have cheaper health care but instead to be healthy!
Health is the primary commodity, not health care. And the only other thing that might prompt those who do not take care of themselves to become healthy, other than the greater happiness having good health would bring to them, is having to pay for their own self-destructive behavior. In any case, you should not be forced into subsidizing their unhealthy habits and choices. Rather than being “guilted” into paying for everyone else’s health care, we should all wish to bring more personal responsibility into the system, not less, just as the Safeway health-care plan we have been reading about has given employees incentives to quit smoking and to slim down. Healthier people mean more access to doctors for all.
If you pursue your own health reasonably well, without even being a fanatic, and if you pay your own doctors’ bills, then you should only need health coverage for one basic reason: catastrophic disease or accident for you or your family. Very few individuals can afford life-saving treatments costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it is to the bad, old insurance companies you have to go to get coverage for “catastrophic.” That kind of need, by the way, cannot be optional or used promiscuously.
Admittedly, the relationship you have with insurance companies is a little weird. They hire morbid mathematicians called actuaries whose job it is to figure out how many chances in twenty you have in coming down with a deadly disease and how much that treatment would cost. And, yes, these insurance companies are in business to make a profit, just as you are in business to make a profit.
But here is the curious thing about insurance companies. They are betting that you will be healthy. You are the one betting that you will get sick. That is why they are often willing to pay for “wellness” visits though you tell your wife one doctor’s appointment every seven years or so is enough. If you stay well, they can keep the whole of what you send them every month, as is the case with your life and auto and home-owners’ policies. Furthermore, if they do not offer you a good deal, then you can go to another insurance company—that is, if the federal and state governments had not already put massive restrictions on the health insurance business. Rather than being pilloried by self-serving politicians, the insurance companies should be freed up to do what they do best: offer good catastrophic coverage at reasonable prices.
If you insist on being responsible only for your own health in this brave new era of responsibility, you shall, of course, be asked about the millions yet uninsured. This exploitation of your humanity is starting to wear thin. In remembering Medicaid and CHIP and the 1200 free clinics in the nation, you cannot help but ask, if the government cannot take care of those they have already promised to with billions of American taxpayers’ dollars, what makes them think they could take care of you who are quite capable of paying your own way without coercion, interference, or, worst of all, help.
If you are allowed — and who, exactly, should be telling you, you are not? — to pursue your own health, your own medical care, and your own health coverage by the lights of your own reason, self-knowledge, and love of life, you will end up with better results in all three. So will everyone else. To this end, the Founding Fathers of this country held that free and independent men and women would best be able to pursue and to achieve their own health, wealth, and happiness by looking after themselves, and such individual responsibility would achieve the common good.
Barack Obama and the Democrats claim that they can provide your health and happiness better than you can by forcing us all into sharing our separate healths together. Fortunately, in a democracy, you get to decide.
Originally published on HumanEvents.com on October 17, 2009.