Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First, Witchcraft Trials; Now, Impending Health Insurance Fiasco: Massachusetts Leads the Way

Having just read today’s New York Times’ lead page-one article titled “Massachusetts Sets Health Plan for Nearly All,” I think I know what it must be like to live in some place like Caracas and participate in a popular celebration of the joyous wonders wrought by La Revolución. That’s certainly the spirit of the article.

It claims in essence to describe how the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts have managed to make medical insurance both available and affordable for nearly all, at hardly any cost. “The bill,” The Times’ reporter breathlessly gushes,

does what health experts say no other state has been able to do: provide a mechanism for all of its citizens to obtain health insurance. It accomplishes that in a way that experts say combines methods and proposals from across the political spectrum, apportioning the cost among businesses, individuals and the government.

The Times did not print a copy of the bill, and so I have not read it. But judging from the article, I’m sure it must be one incredible mishmash of contradictions, deceptions, and distortions that are going to cost the people of Massachusetts dearly. The bill is openly touted, in effect, as being all things to all men. An alleged expert is quoted as saying, “`For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help.’” So the bill simultaneously satisfies those who supposedly want to keep the government out of our wallets and those who eagerly want to let it in, those who want it to take less from us and those who want it to take more from us. (Guess which side will win, when the government is assigned a new and additional task—in this case, being sure that almost everyone has health insurance.)

If that were not enough, the article actually talks of part of the cost of the bill being apportioned to the government. That’s what allegedly helps to make the bill so affordable: the government will pay part of its cost. The article’s actual words, which bear repeating, are “apportioning the cost among businesses, individuals and the government.” This treats the government as some kind of rich fairy godmother, who is helping to take care of her people. And to be sure that this claim is not lost, the print edition of The Times brazenly states this fable in a callout set in large, bold type: “A health care plan paid for by businesses, individuals and the government.” One of the surprises apparently in store for many people in Massachusetts is going to be learning that whatever is paid for by their government is going to be paid for by them.

The article makes clear that those who have not purchased medical insurance, because they think it’s too expensive, but who are nevertheless deemed capable of “affording” it, are going to have it rammed down their throats. It will be illegal not have medical insurance.

But never mind. The bill is not always so nasty. It treads relatively lightly on businesses. “Businesses with more than 10 workers that do not provide insurance will be assessed up to $295 per employee per year.” This is probably enough to cover the cost of first-class insurance for aspirin tablets and band aids. The difference between this and any serious medical insurance will either be paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts or it will turn out that the whole bill is just a band aid.

There is, however, a bright spot in this bill. And that is, that if it is enacted, as is virtually certain, it will be in the state that is the locale of a major portion of the leftwing intellectual establishment. So, to that extent, it really couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people. But, unfortunately, there are many, many more people in Massachusetts who do not deserve such legislation and who will suffer as the result of it.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

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