The Healthcare Reform Syndrome
by Jacob G. Hornberger
For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Republican congressmen had that big fight over Obamacare and the budget resolution. I mean, why start a fight when you know that you’re going to throw in the towel before the fight is over? After the Republicans started the fight, I tweeted my prediction: that the Republicans would end up throwing in the towel. Why? Because Republicans always throw in the towel. They’ll huff and puff about the importance of principle but it usually only lasts a short while before they throw in the towel and succumb to the forces of statism. Of course, President Obama also knew that the Republicans would throw in the towel, which is why he called their bluff and refused to negotiate.
But there is something much more fundamental going on here. One might call it the reform syndrome, which has long afflicted the conservative movement. Having long ago thrown in the towel on the principles of economic liberty, conservatives have relegated themselves to criticizing liberal reform plans from the Left and coming up with their own conservative reform plans for socialist and interventionist programs.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, for one thing, it’s important to recognize that no matter what reform plan is adopted, conservative or liberal, it’s always going to lead to a new crisis and, therefore, new calls for reform.
Why is that?
Because that’s the way that socialist and interventionist programs work. Socialism and economic interventionism are inherently defective systems. Their programs can never be made to work. They always produce crises. Then, once the crisis occurs, the last thing statists want to do is acknowledge that their system produced the crisis. So, they come up with a reform of the program. The reform though produces a new crisis, oftentimes worse than the original crisis. The process continues, as the government takes over an increasingly large part of people’s lives.
Healthcare is an almost perfect example of this phenomenon. America once had the finest healthcare system in the world, one in which there was very little government involvement. Healthcare costs were reasonably priced. Doctors did very well financially. Many of them, along with private hospitals, donated their services to poor people. It was a fantastic system, one that was improving the quality of healthcare every year. And unlike today, doctors loved their jobs.
Then came Medicare and Medicaid, President Lyndon Johnson’s socialistic healthcare programs. Combined with medical licensure laws, which were nothing more than a protection racket for doctors designed to keep doctors’ incomes high, America’s long downward healthcare spiral began. There was really no other way, given the inherent defectiveness of socialism and interventionism. Ever-increasing insurance regulation and income-tax manipulation on employer-employee medical insurance only exacerbated the problem.
For a while, conservatives opposed Medicare and Medicaid, warning people of the disaster that lay ahead. But finally, wanting to maintain “credibility” and “respectability,” conservatives threw in the towel, accepted Medicare and Medicaid, and devoted themselves to coming up with what they have come to call “free-market” healthcare reforms.
But they are not “free market” healthcare reforms. They are statist healthcare reforms. They might (or might not) be better than liberal healthcare reforms but they are statist reforms nonetheless. They are as far from genuine freedom and free markets as one can get. They are akin to adopting reforms that improved work conditions for 19th-century slaves and calling them “free-market” slavery reforms.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Obamacare is going to be a disaster. One thing is certain: At some point in the future, Congress will be debating some new reform plan for Obamacare. But the thing we have to remember is that even if conservatives succeeded in getting Obamacare repealed, it wouldn’t have made any difference. There still would have been a major healthcare crisis, the same crisis that gave rise to Obamacare. And even if Congress were to adopt some conservative “free market” reform, it would still produce new crises and then new calls for reform. The situation would continue to get worse and worse.
One of the sad tragedies in all this is how conservatives have inculcated in conservative youth that their healthcare reform plans constitute “free enterprise” while those of liberals, such as Obamacare, constitute “socialism.” It’s sad because it’s just a lie and so these young people grow up and become adults honestly believing that America’s healthcare system would be “free enterprise” if only conservative reforms were adopted.
Fortunately, libertarianism provides an antidote to this life of the lie and to the reform syndrome, which is no doubt why so many young people are gravitating to libertarianism. The only way to achieve a genuine free-market healthcare system is to remove all governmental involvement in healthcare — i.e., a total separation of healthcare and the state, much as our American ancestors separated religion and the state. That necessarily means repeal, not reform, of Medicare, Medicaid, medical licensure, insurance regulation, and income-tax manipulation. Genuine freedom and the free market is the only way to restore health to America’s healthcare system.