Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tea Parties, Health Care and Freedom

The modern day “Tea Party” movement is not modeling itself on the right rebellion. Patriots in Boston, throwing British tea overboard, rallied themselves around the cause of “No taxation without representation.” Fair enough.

Tea party revelers have representation today. They may disagree with many of their representatives’ decisions, but they are free to express themselves at the ballot box. They are also free to gather together and protest, which is a very American thing to do, but to draw inspiration from the Boston Tea Party - a response to a truly unfair situation - rings hollow.

Another recent “assault” on freedom is the new health care bill. It requires Americans to purchase health insurance. I will readily admit that this is a necessary evil. Government coercion always is. Stopping at red lights and paying taxes are also necessary evils, but they are the price we pay for civilization. We trade in some of our freedoms to realize other freedoms.

Requiring health insurance for citizens makes sense. How can we expect the health care system to work when tens of millions either can’t afford insurance or decide not to carry it? When they get sick, hospital emergency rooms are required by law to treat them. And when the hospital is not paid, the price goes up for everyone. As Mit Romney said during the 2008 election (paraphrase) - “We already have universal health care - but not everyone is paying for it.” And without encouraging preventative care and regular check-ups, many people wait until they are really, really sick to seek treatment. This isn’t smart - it’s a waste of human life both for the sick and for those who have to pay for it.

As long as hospital ER’s are required to treat people, regardless of their financial circumstances, then we all must contribute. If we had a single payer system our required “insurance” would be paid through taxes, but private insurance is the way of the land, and that is fine.

Does this infringe on our freedom? In some ways yes it does. We are being required to provide for our own health care by purchasing insurance. But there are other possible assaults on freedom. How free is someone when she is sick, or her children are sick, and she cannot afford a doctor? How free is a person waiting until he is sick enough to go to the ER, rather than making a doctor appointment weeks earlier? How free is the middle class person whose medical bills include the cost of all the free treatments provided by hospitals? How free is a person stuck in a dead end job that she hates because she needs the insurance for her family? How free is the man with asthma who cannot purchase health insurance on his own, so he gives up on his entrepreneurial dream and takes a job with a corporation large enough to insure him? How free is a person in physical pain, who doesn’t know what to do about it?

Can government go too far attempting to provide for its citizens? Of course. But we are not talking about cars, cell phones, or even housing here. We are talking about whether we should systematically do all we can to provide health care to our citizens - to ourselves and to our neighbors. The only other commodity as valuable is education, and we pay our property taxes to educate society. To not do this would be to effectively brainwash children. If we have the ability to provide education and health care to our citizens we must do it. If we do not, then calling this the land of equal opportunity has zero credibility.


  1. Tea Parties are for little girls with imaginary friends.

    The word that stuck out most for me in this blog post was “require”. As in “The bill requires Americans to purchase health insurance.” I think that is just one way of looking at it. And if you decide to look at it this way, and you value consistency, you might find yourself saying that the government requires Americans to reproduce!

    Okay, that sounds pretty extreme, so let me unpack that a bit. The way I understand it, every individual must acquire health care in 2014 or face an annual penalty. The penalty is nothing like lashes or public shaming, it is an increase in tax payment. You can call this a fine or you can call it an exclusion from a tax credit. Either way, it is six on one hand or a half-dozen on the other. Now you can see where I am going with this.

    Tax credits are offered for people who acquire children. People who do not acquire children are excluded from this tax credit. Another way of looking at this is parents are not penalized while non-parents are. So would it be fair to say that Americans are required to have children?

    I think the whole business of hiding subsidies in tax breaks, exemptions, credits, etc. just makes it easier to swallow for some. It really boils down to the presentation of ideas in a manner that is politically favorable. I offer no value judgment as it is what it is.

  2. Skyhook,

    Interesting way to think about it! Purchasing ins. gets you a break, instead of not purchasing getting you a penalty.

    IT remind me of property taxes. We all pay them (if we own property), regardless of whether we have children. We are paying to educate society, not our own kids specifically.

  3. umsOh Mr. Stark, you make it sound so easy. Why have I been feeling guilty for supporting this process over the last several weeks?

    Was it not transparent enough?

    Was it just too darn costly?

    Was it just the wrong thing to do and the wrong time?

    Or should I just take comfort in saying "NO!", never mind that I do not have an alternative plan...NO is just the answer I will give.

    If that is what "Tea" is all about, sign me up for water or even kool-aid...the "Tea" isn't going to cut it from my perspective...


  4. yeah, Pont, I hear you.

    I picked the issue of personal freedom because it's one of the only somewhat coherent arguments I have heard against the health care bill. There are valid criticisms (like it doesn't do enough to curb rising costs, etc.), but I have heard way too much yelling and freaking out about......? It's a lot of slippery slope stuff. If we followed that line, we'd never do anything.

    I think this bill will result in a net gain of freedom for Americans. I hope I am right!

  5. Skyhook, I like that argument. They really should have said that no one is required to buy insurance, but if you do, you get this $900 tax exemption (or whatever the amount is). But they figured the Tea Partiers would go crazy if health insurance reform caused an increase in know, do crazy stuff like say the apocalypse is beginning and threaten to rise up in arms against the majority-elected government, that kind of thing. So they decided to go with the reciprocal route and say it's a mandate with a penalty for noncompliance, and oh, look how the Tea Partiers reacted.

    I hope we learned from this that the right is not willing to compromise, so we can whore our principles to them but we're still going to get nothing in return except violence and vitriol.

    The fact is anyone who thinks about this in earnest will have no trouble finding just such mandates all over the place. People point to the school system, fire depts, etc.; but even anti-nudity laws and laws against homelessness or loitering require us to purchase things (clothes, shelter) or risk penalties. The real controversy is just where to draw the line--it's a matter of degree not of kind.

  6. Amanda, thanks for expressing something so well that I argue all the time! The difference between between people is mostly where the right balance is between the public and private sector. "Less government" or "more government" is not a principle - it's a question of balance within a generally agreed upon system. "Less" or "more" only make sense in relation to another's stance on where the correct line is.