Tag Archives: obamacare

Quick Thoughts on the Health Care Ruling

The Supreme Court upheld the health care bill, as you’ve no doubt heard by now. Over at the Daily Caller, I add a few quick thoughts about how Randy Barnett’s Commerce Clause argument also applies to Congress’ taxation power, on the Court’s reluctance to check the other branches’ excesses, and how happy rent-seeking insurance companies must be right now.

Read the whole thing here.


Understanding the Health Care System

One of the worst parts of the current health care system is its sheer complexity. Because most of the payments are made by third parties, the paperwork burden is enormous. Co-pays, deductibles, ever-shifting networks, and so on. Unfortunately, that complexity is about to get a lot worse because of this year’s health care bill. Check out this flow chart of what the health care system will look like once Obamacare is implemented:

You can also download a PDF version of the chart that allows you to zoom in more closely. It’s worth taking a few minutes to look at all the agencies and bureaucracies in greater detail.

This chart was released by Rep. Kevin Brady, a partisan Republican. But whatever your politics, you should be wary of any scheme as grandiose as Obamacare. This represents a re-ordering of one sixth of the American economy.And not only is the government tasked with making this flow chart flow smoothly. It is also tasked with fighting two land wars in Asia. With delivering the mail. With developing new energy technologies. With overhauling the nation’s entire financial system. No organization can do all those things and do them well. Doesn’t matter how talented and well-meaning the people behind it are. It is beyond the limits of anyone’s ability to plan.

As Dan Mitchell points out, real health care reform would have just two parties to most transactions: buyer and seller.

There are two other things I’d like to see. One is that health insurance should not be linked to your job. Under both the current system and Obamacare, if you lose your job, you lose your insurance at exactly the time you need it most. This can be done by treating employer-provided insurance exactly the same as individual insurance in the tax code. Employer-provided insurance is currently given special treatment.

Real reform would also fundamentally change the way we use health insurance. The purpose of insurance is to insure against unexpected risks. Your annual physical does not fit that description. Having insurers pay for routine, expected expenses is like using your auto insurance to pay for a tank of gas and a car wash. No wonder premiums are so high. Health insurance isn’t really insurance. It’s pre-paying for your health care. And it also has one whopper of a principal-agent problem that explains a large portion of why health costs are so shockingly high.

The Two Americas

Maybe there is something to John Edwards’ “Two Americas” conceit after all. Except the warring factions aren’t the haves and have-nots. They are what Steven Malanga calls tax eaters and tax payers. And the two see the world very differently. See this revealing excerpt from today’s WSJ Political Diary (subscription required).

Pollster Scott Rasmussen uses several questions to break down voters demographically, but one of his most original tweaks is to differentiate between those voters he calls the “Political Class” and those he calls “Mainstream Americans.” The “Political Class,” representing about 14% of the electorate, tend to express “trust” in political leaders while rejecting suggestions that government is its own special interest and often works with big business against consumers. In contrast, “Mainstream Americans” represent about 75% of the voting public and identify with or lean toward a more populist skepticism about the intentions and actions of political leaders.

Striking is how the two groups divide on the question of repealing ObamaCare. “Mainstream Americans” support repeal by an overwhelming 73%, while the numbers are almost exactly reversed among the “Political Class,” 72% of whom oppose repeal.

Four Ways to Spend Money on Health Care

As the House gets ready to pass the health care bill today, I’m reminded of one of the first lessons in economics I ever learned. Milton Friedman put it best:

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.

The biggest problem with health care today is that patients only pay 12 percent of costs out of pocket.  As far as each individual is concerned, it’s basically on sale for 88 percent off! No wonder we spend so much on health care.

Today’s bill consists almost entirely of spending other peoples’ money on other people. If it becomes law, that 12 percent figure will fall even further. This is no way to keep costs under control. However noble Congress’ intentions may be, its bill will not work as advertised. Human nature won’t allow it.

Markets and Special Interests

Detractors of capitalism decry that it caters to special interests. The opposite is actually true. Just look at what’s happened in the last year.

Most of Wall Street came to government asking for a bailout when the government-created housing bubble popped.

The Big Three automakers also went to Washington for largesse when their customers came to prefer Toyotas and Hondas.

Health insurance companies stand to make a killing if Obamacare passes.

T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore would make millions from environmental legislation.

Ludwig von Mises explained the reason for all of this corrupt behavior with a single sentence back in 1949: “It is precisely the fact that the market does not respect vested interests that makes the people concerned ask for government interference.”
Human Action, 4th Edition, p. 337.