Published in The Tennessean, Sunday, February 12, 2012 and Forbes
by Richard J. Grant
Most progressives are not totalitarian at heart, they are totalitarian by accident. When they supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they really believed that the title had something to do with the content of the act. They didn't really know what was in it; they had to pass it to find out.
The so-called Affordable Care Act is the product of a rightly felt belief that something is wrong with our health-care system. In that sense, the act is one of many such acts that was initiated to correct the problems created by previous government attempts to improve the economy and particularly the health-care system.
When the federal and state governments force insurance companies, through mandates, to offer expansive policies that bear less and less resemblance to real insurance, it should be no surprise that the policies become painfully expensive and less well-fitted to customers’ needs. When the mandates drive up the cost of the policies, many people decide that it's just not worth it to be “insured.”
This is where proponents of “social justice” show themselves to be divorced from moral reality. As Frederic Bastiat long ago recognized, they focus only on that narrow reality they are capable of seeing directly. They make no conceptual link to the unintended damage also caused by their actions.
What now appears as a crisis of the uninsured is not a consequence of capitalism, but a consequence of its absence. Insurance is a human response to the risks of life. The service is more creative and effective the freer we are to provide it. Creative solutions to such problems as “pre-existing conditions” have been held back or proscribed by a plethora of state and federal mandates and a tax structure that disadvantages personal, portable health insurance. It is to such government-created limitations that the government now responds.
Many proponents of “social justice” are now shocked that the federal government would use the regulatory power granted to it in the Affordable Care Act to force all employers, including those with church affiliations, to offer health insurance that covers contraceptives and related services, all without co-pay. Suddenly we see people standing up with admonitions to the effect of, “When they came for the Catholics we did nothing because we were not...”
But where were they before that, when they believed they would get religious exemptions? Did they stand up for those millions who would be denied the freedom to enter into an insurance contract of their own choosing, and who would be forced to insure for conditions that were not only uninsurable, but might also cause moral conflict?
It is a poor strategy for those who wish to defend the First Amendment of the Constitution to ignore most of what comes before it. It was such practical ignorance that allowed the federal government to interfere in the provision of medical care.
The regulatory and tax-induced distortions inflicted on our health-care system have spawned calls for more of the same, more central planning, to correct the problems. When people fail to act as commanded, they are coerced into the system. The “individual mandate,” which forces people to buy health insurance or pay a fine, is an integral part of the recent health-care reform act. It reflects the true nature of the movement that supports it, and it won't end there.
Richard J. Grant is a Professor of Finance and Economics at Lipscomb University and a Senior Fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee. His column appears on Sundays.
Copyright © Richard J Grant 2012