Health Care: A Commodity or a Moral Issue?
Listen to the following conversation that took place between former President Richard Nixon and John Erlichmann:
Erlichman: Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanenente deal for profit. And the reason he can...all the incentives are toward less medical care, because...the less care they give them, the more money they make.In his book, The Political Mind, George Lakoff claims that conservatives generally identify positively with the above scenario--that it is okay for health insurance companies to deny coverage to claimants in order to maximize profits. I hope that's not true. If it's true, then I think we've had "death panels" much longer than just since Obamacare took effect.
Erlichman: and the incentives run the right way.
Nixon: Not bad!
But I don't think it's true, in two ways. First of all, I don't think conservatives view health care as a commodity that should be used by its purveyors as a way to maximize profits at the expense of the insured patient. Secondly, I think Kaiser Permanente and Erlichman are wrong that "the less care they give them the more money they make." That attitude is a fundamental misunderstanding of the free market; for it to be and remain truly free, the market must first be moral.
Rudy Giuliani, while running for President, claimed that health care is a commodity, and that the market can regulate health care. Lakoff disagrees:
But health care is a matter of protection, not a commodity. It is a matter of pain and suffering, of life and death. Many people die, or suffer terrible pain, for lack of adequate health care. No one dies for lack of a flat-screen TV. Protection is a moral mission, for the government, but not for business.
The point, I think, at which conservatives and progressives disagree, is not whether provision of health care is a moral issue. It is whether moral issues should be exclusively within the purview of government. I think health care is both a commodity and a moral issue, and I think most Conservatives agree with me. It is government regulation (and in some cases lack thereof) that have made it so that the large percentage of the 40 million people who want but don't have health care don't have health care.
Conservatives and progressives are more on the same sheet of music than we think. Both sides, I think, actually agree that ensuring that people have health care is a moral issue. It's just a matter of how best to solve that moral problem. I agree with most conservatives in that I don't think government can do it as well as the private sector, because, after all, our government is us. If we're not moral in private, how can we expect our government to be moral in public for us?