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Universal Health Insurance: Just Don't Get Sick

April 7, 2008

Okay, let's say that President Obama or Hillary is in office and Congress has passed a bill that requires everyone to have health insurance. Gas is up over $4.00 a gallon, food prices are sky high, and, if you've recently graduated from college, you are paying off loans at $1,000 per month.

If you're a homeowner, you have a mortgage, property taxes, and a stack of other bills. You've got to decide between paying the mandated premium or being able to drive to work, buy food, holding onto your home, or keeping the bill collector from your door.

All of a sudden, mandatory health insurance doesn't seem like such a great idea. In fact, your big worry is that Social Security will be able to send you a monthly check and that Medicare and Medicaid won't go flat broke before you die. Trustees for these massive entitlement programs just announced Social Security will be depleted by 2041, while Medicare goes bust eight years from now in 2019.

According to a March 18 Policy Analysis published by the Cato Institute, health care consumers are annually spending "more than $1.8 trillion dollars for overall health costs, more than what Americans spend on housing, food, national defense, or automobiles."

Moreover, "because of the way health care costs are distributed, they have become an increasing burden on consumers and businesses alike. On average, health insurance now costs $4,479 for an individual and $12,106 for a family per year. Health insurance premiums rose by little more than 6 percent in 2007, faster on average than wages."

The news gets worse. "Moreover, government health care programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, are piling up enormous burdens of debt for future generations. Medicare's unfunded liabilities now top $50 trillion."

Getting ill can be a very expensive proposition in America. That's why universal health insurance is the major political promise being made by the Democrat candidates.

Even if politicians like those in my home state of New Jersey want to impose this new required cost on everyone it's worth keeping in mind that both Social Security and Medicare are scheduled to go broke soon. Another massive program like universal health insurance is not likely to fare any better.

In mid-March, New Jersey lawmakers unveiled their plans to impose universal health insurance within three years, requiring its 1.3 million uninsured residents to buy coverage. In addition, state funding will be used to provide reduced-cost policies. That essentially puts the state in the insurance business, albeit administered by private insurers, and, given the State's appalling inability to do much else in a rational fashion, the idea should only serve to drive still more people to move somewhere, anywhere else.

As the columnist Paul Mulshine pointed out in a recent look at the New Jersey health bill, the politicians' logic is irrefutable. "If only the government could force everyone to buy health insurance, then everyone would have health insurance." The way it will work is that "every New Jersey resident will be required to provide proof of health insurance at tax time. If you don't have health insurance, the state will sign you up and start charging you for it."

Dr. David Gratzer, a physician and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, recently point out that, "the New Jersey proposal feels very Bay State: subsidies for low-income applicants, an expansion of children's health insurance, a requirement that eventually all citizens get heath insurance." The problem is that the Massachusetts program "has exploded in costs, (and is) now 85 percent over budget. Health insurance premiums rose 12 percent last year."

Other nations have universal health systems in place, I hear you say. Yes, they do and the Cato Institute analysis by Michael Tanner points out that, "Health insurance does not mean universal access to health care. In practice, many countries promise universal coverage but ration care or have long waiting lines for treatment."

Moreover, "Rising health care costs are not a uniquely American phenomenon...costs are rising almost everywhere, leading to budget deficits, tax increases, and benefit reductions."

"In countries weighted heavily toward government control, people are most likely to face waiting lists, rationing, restrictions on physician choice, and other obstacles to care." My English friends routinely regale me with horror stories about their health care system.

If none of this sounds as rosy at the health insurance programs proposed by Obama or Hillary, the current American system of personal choice of physicians, hospitals, types of care, begins to look pretty good, even if some folks cannot afford these things. In reality, no one gets turned away from the emergency room.

Not surprisingly, Tanner points out that, "Countries with more effective national health care systems are successful to the degree that they incorporate market mechanisms such as competition, cost sharing, market prices, and consumer choice, and eschew centralized government control."

For those unfamiliar with "centralized government control", that's what Communist and Socialist nations do.

I have saved, as they say, the best for last. In the view of Karl Manheim, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the proposed health plans are not constitutional. As he correctly points out, "The federal government does not ordinarily require Americans to purchase particular goods or services from private parties." Neither federal nor state governments can require you to purchase health insurance as a "condition" of residency. It is that element of coercion that neither candidate wants to address. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American.

If the Democrat proposals become law, an entire generation of young Americans and their descendents will have to pick up the tab for us old folks. Of course, they are doing that now with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I am glad I am not young anymore.

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Copyright ©2008 Alan Caruba

Alan Caruba is an American public relations counselor and freelance writer who is a frequent critic of environmentalism, Islam and research on global warming. In the late 1970s Caruba founded the PR firm The Caruba Organization, and in 1990, the National Anxiety Center, which identifies itself as "a clearinghouse for information about 'scare campaigns' designed to influence public policy and opinion" on such subjects as global warming, ozone depletion and DDT.