Time to 86 the 208 Healthcare Commission
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on March 5, 2007.
When legislators don't want to assume the responsibility of governing, they create a "commission" to "study" a problem and make "recommendations" to a future legislature. The fancifully named Blue Ribbon Commission for Healthcare Reform, authorized by Senate Bill 208 from last year, consists of 24 members, assigned by various politicians.
In other words, we pay legislators to appoint commissioners who spend more of our money to advise legislators on how to spend even more of our money, in this case on other people's health care.
According to documents available at leg.state.co.us, Representative Bernie Buescher co-sponsored the bill. Former Representative (now Senator) Josh Penry voted for it, and former Senator Ron Teck voted against it. Of course former Governor Bill Owens signed it, because he rarely met a left-wing appeasement bill he didn't like.
The Commission's "principles" -- see colorado.gov/208commission -- aren't principles at all. They are vague generalities that provide no substantive guidance. "Protect and improve the health status of all Coloradans." Okay, but by what standards? "Expand coverage," encourage "high-quality, cost-effective" care that's "financially viable, sustainable and fair," and allow for things like "meaningful choice" and "consumer empowerment." At least that cuts off the hordes demanding meaningless choice and unfair practices.
The language of SB-208 is a little more specific. It calls for "establishing health care reform models to expand health care coverage and to decrease health care costs for Colorado residents." The Commission is supposed to "examine options for expanding affordable health coverage for all Colorado residents... with special attention given to the uninsured, underinsured, and those at risk of financial hardship due to medical expenses."
However, the proper role of government is to protect our rights, not manipulate prices or decide how much medical coverage we need. The only way politicians can help improve medicine is to stop interfering in our medical decisions.
The federal government damaged the private insurance market and drove insurance to a high-cost, non-portable employer-pay system. Federal and state governments have imposed all sorts of other mandates and controls on medicine, thereby driving up costs and binding doctors in red tape.
Yet the 208 Commission is not supposed to consider the "model" of liberty and individual rights. The legislative declaration states,"The existing models for comprehensive health care reform tend to be polarized between the ideological extremes of wholly unregulated markets, on the one hand, and intrusive government control, on the other..."
The bill's pragmatic nonsense misframes the issue. Nobody is calling for "wholly unregulated markets," if "regulation" is taken in its broadest meaning ("to make regular"). A free market means freedom from initiatory force and fraud, and that requires government involvement limited to certain tasks.
The sole legitimate purpose of the government is to protect individual rights. That means stopping people from initiating force against others, preventing fraud, and upholding contracts. In accomplishing those limited goals, government "regulates" the market appropriately.
The problem comes when government itself violates rights. It does this in two basic ways. It forces some people to pay for other people's medical expenses. This violates each person's right to control his or her own income.
Of course a few people do fall into unpredictable hardship, and that's where voluntary charities step in. For example, the Shriners, with whom your elder author is active, funds hospitals for children. But it is simply wrong for the government to force welfare transfers, and the consequence is a diminishment of personal responsibility.
Second, government interferes with our ability to enter into contracts for medical care and insurance. For example, government has undermined the ability of many individuals to purchase private insurance plans, and insurance is subjected to all sorts of controls.
The irony is that illegitimate government controls -- government-initiated force that violates individual rights -- are assumed by SB-208 to constitute "regulations." In fact, the result of such controls is to make the medical market irregular and chaotic.
By refusing to accept as its standard individual rights, SB-208 and the commission it created will necessarily promote "intrusive government control." In this context, "expanding affordable health coverage for all Colorado residents" can mean only that the government is supposed to further interfere in our medical decisions by forcibly transferring wealth and restricting our ability to contract.
But achieving affordable, effective medicine is impossible with central planning. Expanded tax-funded medical services will further break the link between service and cost, thereby driving up costs and leading to more bureaucratic controls.
There is no such thing as a right to health care. You have no right to force other people to provide you with medical services. You do have a right to control your own income and enter into contracts. The mess in medicine is the direct result of government interference in medicine. The only just and practical solution is the restoration of individual rights.