Monday, June 29, 2009

Will on Health Care

 George Will in the Washington Post:

Most Americans do want different health care: They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices. Americans spent much less on health care in 1960 (5 percent of gross domestic product as opposed to 18 percent now). They also spent much less -- nothing, in fact -- on computers, cellphones, and cable and satellite television.


Today the portion of income consumed by those four has barely changed -- 55 percent. But the health-care component has increased while the other three combined have decreased. This is partly because as societies become richer, they spend more on health care -- and symphonies, universities, museums, etc.

It is also because health care is increasingly competent. When the first baby boomers, whose aging is driving health-care spending, were born in 1946, many American hospitals' principal expense was clean linen. This was long before MRIs, CAT scans and the rest of the diagnostic and therapeutic arsenal that modern medicine deploys.

In a survey released in April by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard, only 6 percent of Americans said that they were willing to spend more than $200 a month on health care, and the price must fall to $100 a month before a majority are willing to pay it. But according to Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, Americans already are paying an average of $400 a month.

Most Americans do not know this because the cost of their care is hidden. Only 9 percent buy health coverage individually, and $84 of every $100 spent on health care is spent by someone (an employer, insurance company or government) other than recipients of the care. Those who get insurance as untaxed compensation from employers have no occasion to compute or confront the size of that benefit. But it is part of the price their employers pay for their work.


As market enthusiasts, conservatives should stop warning that the president's reforms will result in health-care "rationing." Every product, from a jelly doughnut to a jumbo jet, is rationed -- by price or by politics. The conservative's task is to explain why price is preferable. The answer is that prices produce a rational allocation of scarce resources.

Regarding reform, conservatives are accused of being a party of "no." Fine. That is an indispensable word in politics because most new ideas are false and mischievous. Furthermore, the First Amendment's lovely first five words ("Congress shall make no law") set the negative tone of the Bill of Rights, which is a list of government behaviors, from establishing religion to conducting unreasonable searches, to which the Constitution says: No.

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