Bowing to pressure to actually at least pretend to fulfill some of his campaign processes to be more bi-partisan and televise the healthcare debate (after a year of breaking those same promises, among others), the President made a half-hearted effort to change the tone of the discussion. I while most of it was his usual bluster and lecturing, he did make a few revealing points, one about government regulation in particular, where he compares our current drug regulation system to our food regulation system:
Now, let me respond to your question. We could set up a system where food was probably cheaper than it is right now if we just eliminated meat inspectors and we eliminated any regulations in terms of how food is distributed and how it’s stored. I’ll bet in terms of drug prices, we would definitely reduce prescription drug prices if we didn’t have a drug administration that makes sure that we test the drugs so that they don’t kill us.
But we don’t do that. We make some decisions to protect consumers in every aspect of our lives. And we have bipartisan support for doing it, because what we don’t want is a situation in which suddenly people think they’re getting one thing and they’re getting something else — they’re harmed by a product. What Secretary Sebelius just referred to — which is not a Washington thing; in fact, state insurance standards in many states are higher than anything that’s done in Washington — is as a consequence of seeing consistent abuses by the insurance companies and people finding themselves helpless to deal with.
Inadvertently, in making this point the President highlights the entire problem with our current healthcare industry to begin with by comparing it to food production and distribution. One can see this by imagining for a moment what would happen if we attempted to do with food what has been done with healthcare and the way it is produced and paid for.
Imagine that our government attempted to feed everyone over 65 for free, as well those who were too poor to buy food, by collecting monies from all of us over the course of our life. That employers provided a ‘food stipend’, partly paid for by employees, and that this stipend was managed by food money managers, who attempted to control how much grocers and food producers charged for food. That certain employers gave more money than others to their employers for food and how much one paid for a food stipend might depend on where one worked. If one’s employer didn’t offer a stipend, or if one wasn’t employed, one must find independent food stipend providers, who charged a premium to provide such a stipend; and they would charge according to how much food one ate or whether one wanted specialized foods beyond ordinary those that were absolutely necessary.
This system also required that food distribution would differ from state to state. Some states required the stipend managers to pay for beef, others did not. Some states didn’t allow certain foods to be sold at all because they didn’t think they meant certain health requirements. So the food one might be able to purchase with ones stipend might differ depending on where one lived.
Imagine further that because the food system was so widely subsidized, regulated, and required so many more participants to function, that food costs began to sky-rocket. Even basic foods began to cost exorbitant prices, and those without food stipends had a very hard time getting food at all. Great inequities developed in the food distribution system, with those who could afford expensive food stipends eating freely, while others had to settle for minimum calories. Others had to actually cross into Canada and Mexico to find food they could afford, and the government budgets for public subsidies for food stipends were blowing up.
Into that morass steps a figure like our President. He would say that food was critical to the health of our citizens – and he would be right. He would share anecdotes about those who lacked food, and it would evoke compassion which is appropriate in such cases, and he would suggest that the system needs to be fixed – and be universally applauded for realizing this. But if instead of ending such a failed system the President recommended fixing this imaginary system by having the government take over the food distribution, extending the power of the government over the running of the food industry so that is could equitably distribute food to everyone, required everyone to purchase their food from the government, and then taxed us all accordingly to pay for this bloated bureaucratic system thus exponentially expanding and entrenching the whole idea of ‘food stipends’, there would be universal outrage and rebellion against such an idea.
We know this now because we currently have one of the most successful food production and distribution systems in the world which exist largely apart from such programs and subsidies by employers and the government, and applying to food production the same policies the current administration is recommending for healthcare would destroy our food production. And yet, we continue to entertain these very same ideas for healthcare, when instead we should be moving toward a system of distribution that is less tied to the system of regulation, subsidized insurance and entitlement programs, and freer markets that allow consumers to directly access the services they desire, and pay for them what they are worth.
It’s not an easy direction to go, because we are already up to our necks in the mud of this system, but dumping more mud on our heads won’t help, it will only suffocate us. It’s too bad our President and his congress can’t follow their own comparisons to their logical conclusions.