The Real Debate in Healthcare: Bush and Kerry versus Free Market Medicine

by | Oct 18, 2004

To many it appears the Bush and Kerry healthcare plans are as different as an antibiotic and a placebo. However, in fundamental terms, both are prescribing the same “cure” to our healthcare system that has been offered for decades: greater doses of socialized medicine. Kerry’s plan represents a significant step toward socialized medicine. He plans […]

To many it appears the Bush and Kerry healthcare plans are as different as an antibiotic and a placebo. However, in fundamental terms, both are prescribing the same “cure” to our healthcare system that has been offered for decades: greater doses of socialized medicine.

Kerry’s plan represents a significant step toward socialized medicine. He plans to expand government programs and subsidize many employers to encourage them to continue to provide insurance to their employees.

Bush’s plan will probably increase the government’s role in healthcare at a slower pace. He wants to encourage some individuals to continue to pay for their own healthcare through tax-free Health Savings Accounts, but has expanded government programs with the inclusion of prescription drugs in Medicare and wants to expand them more with additional healthcare for the poor. Neither mentions the one truly fundamental alternative: getting rid of an increasingly government funded and controlled system that raises the cost and decreases the quality of healthcare.

Nationalized healthcare has wreaked havoc upon people everywhere it’s been implemented. For instance, Medicare has led to skyrocketing costs because it divorces the benefits of healthcare from the costs. Whenever someone else pays the bill for something people buy, demand increases and pushes prices upward. Skyrocketing prices have led to price caps and shortages, which mean patients must make appointments months in advance and spend less time with the doctor. Rising prices have also led to the government opposing some advances in medical technology in an attempt to reduce costs (so that it will not have to pay for the use of such technology once it becomes available).

Other countries have faired worse with healthcare systems that are even more socialized. In Britain, for instance, patients wait in line for hours just to sign up to see a dentist through the National Health Service. In one case, 600 people waited in line for a chance to become new patients at an NHS dentist. Some dentists have left the NHS because they say it pays too little and forces them to see too many patients in too little time.

What would happen without government healthcare? The cosmetic surgery industry, which is not covered by any government program, provides a clue.

Despite rapidly advancing technology and improving quality, fees for many procedures increased at only 1.9% per year from 1992 to 2003, less than the 2.5% annual rise in prices generally and less than the 3.3% annual rise in wages.

People want nationalized healthcare because they believe healthcare is a “right.” But no one has a right to healthcare. Rights do not give people the “right” to force others (such as doctors and taxpayers) to provide them with things they want or need. Such a “right” implies the absurd contradiction of having the “right” to violate the rights of others.

Rights only give people the freedom to obtain things from others through voluntary trade. Doctors have a moral right to try to make as much money as possible using their talents, just as plumbers, lawyers, and professional athletes have this right. The fact that obtaining healthcare might mean the difference between life and death does not give people the “right” to enslave doctors to their needs.

The most advanced medical technologies are luxuries, just as the latest advances in all technologies, such as big-screen, plasma televisions, are luxuries. At first, only the rich can afford such things. As technological progress occurs, the costs of new technologies fall and they become affordable to more people. This is exactly what has happened in the cosmetic surgery industry, where the number of procedures performed has increased dramatically as they have become more affordable. The same could occur in traditional healthcare.

However, technological progress can occur only to the extent the rights of producers (including doctors and producers of medical devices and prescription drugs) are protected so they have the freedom to gain skills, advance technology, and keep the money they make. Without the protection of their rights, they will have neither the ability nor the selfish incentive to make improvements.

Neither Bush nor Kerry addresses the fundamental issue of protecting the rights of doctors and other healthcare producers. In fact, their policies will expand government healthcare and cause greater violations of rights.

To improve our healthcare system we must abolish government programs, like Medicare, and protect the rights of healthcare producers. This will make it possible for healthcare producers to live their lives for their own benefit and lead to higher quality and more affordable healthcare for everyone.

Brian P. Simpson is an economics professor and chair of the Department of Accounting, Finance, and Economics in the College of Professional Studies at National University in La Jolla, CA. He is the author of A Declaration and Constitution for a Free Society, and the two-volume work on Austrian business cycle theory titled Money, Banking, and the Business Cycle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and the book Markets Don’t Fail! (Lexington Books, 2005).

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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