If you can get past the legal jargon, you should realize that much of the debate concerning the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act is actually misguided. As initially assessed in an opinion by Bloomberg.com, the problem with Obamacare is not the individual mandate, but the state of the healthcare industry itself. The skyrocketing costs of a doctor’s visit and the increasing qualifications needed to be health insured has made basic coverage for the average American a commodity to be treasured when available. To the uninsured, the prospect of sustaining a financially bankrupt healthcare system actually sounds appealing considering that most government services aren’t legitimately funded anyway. Have doubts? Look at the size of the debt. If Wall Street Fortune 500 companies can get bailouts, then surely the government has the money to provide for basic healthcare services. Oh, how a citizen can dream.
For now, let’s skip the philosophical debate regarding whether a government ought to provide healthcare to its citizens at all. As detailed by the Bloomberg opinion, the fundamental problem with healthcare policy is that it attempts to distinguish between what citizens really “need”, and what they “want.” In a moral framework of government, needs are most often discussed in terms of services that a government should provide to insure the safety and future of its citizens, such as an effective law enforcement. However, no one will contest that a human being will need basic medical services over the course of his or her lifetime. Policymakers walk a fine line when defining these needs, reasoning why debates concerning the legislation’s language are sometimes more important than the principles behind it.
Still, sitting around arguing about what is and isn’t a basic need won’t resolve anything. At the end of the day, the healthcare industry is still broken and citizens are still footing the bill for President Obama’s healthcare behemoth. The solution is no revolution, as fixing the industry is easier said than done. But consider this: the reality of the economy is that there will not be healthcare equivalents to Wal-Mart or Apple innovating and dramatically lowering their prices for their customers. The healthcare industry is a double sided coin; on one side, the freedom to choose your provider shifts the debate regarding what is and isn’t a need to the individual, preventing the government from dictating a universal policy. However, like an evil twin, the flip side represents the inherent evils of a free market. Like any business, if given the opportunity, healthcare providers will exploit the individual’s ability to self-define an insurance package by determining a willingness to pay, and charging accordingly. In the case of healthcare oligopolies, such as Kaiser Permanente and Anthem, complete market control will culminate in collusion to set prices as high as possible, and cheat customers from finding available substitutes elsewhere.
That’s not to say there isn’t good reason. For any form of health insurance, the moral hazard of a careless society merits premiums that can cover excessive costs. Under Obamacare, the misconception that basic coverage means “do whatever I want without risk” is a problem that policymakers will need to tackle if the survival of the system is to prevail. Inevitably, a future of frivolous law suits for injuries and damages, be it an automobile accident or a slip and fall at a supermarket, will surely arise for those seeking coverage beyond what Obamacare stipulates because they were ignorant about the health law. In this case, education about the healthcare law will become more pertinent than ever, and policy makers should concern themselves with finding better ways of communicating to the general public what basic coverage really means.
Fixing the healthcare industry requires a delicate balance of free enterprise and government regulation against practices that would otherwise result in the economic scenario we’re seeing today. To this end, we engage the philosophical debate. Critics of any approach involving regulation will identify themselves as champions of free markets, libertarian in nature, and contributors to the vastly misinformed. A blind devotion to free markets is risky because it finds justification in naturally weeding out those unfit to compete via market forces. It also assumes that the concept of “the good” for society is represented by norms and exchanges in the marketplace. But the state of the economy has proven time and again that being economically efficient is not the same as being morally prudent. Businesses operate to make a profit, corrupting any hope that health care providers actually work in the interest of the people. Until these flaws are realized, any entirely free market approach cannot merit consideration.
Regulations that have reverberating impacts, like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, are the kinds of policies that need serious consideration in place of a government health care system. Place the innovative burden on the private sector, but hold the government accountable when corporations commit wrong. In a more cynical perspective, an economic environment hostile to riskless practices ensures that health reform is executed in the interest of the people, and that only true innovation shines through the gaps of the government’s stranglehold. But more pratically speaking, anything but a broken healthcare industry would be acceptable.