Kamala Harris, a Democratic Senator from California recently announced that she is running for president. One of her most notable campaign promises thus far is that health care is a right and that Medicare should be made available to all. There are numerous problems with this reasoning that even some Democrats are pointing out. And there are so many Democrats running for president that some have called them the 20 smurfs. But this kind of rhetoric is so prevalent that it’s worth making this a case study with the problems in declaring something a right.
The biggest issue with declaring something a right doesn’t suddenly change basic economics and supply and demand. For example, Thomas Sowell pointed out that the government could declare it a right that everybody has beach-front property. But that doesn’t change the amount of beach-front property that is available.
Officially, the government would set up some commission for determining how people will get their right to beach- front property. Then they would set up mandates that everybody sign up for it. That still doesn’t create enough beach-front property to satisfy everybody’s right. The government will have to set up panels to determine who most needs it. Since they are intervening in the free market they will set up price controls that determine, rather unscientifically, what the land is worth and likely give subsidies to those that can’t afford it. Since government doesn’t have any money unless it first takes it, they will have to increase taxes.
Most people would say that this system sounds quite burdensome and ridiculous. But that is what America already has for health care. Politicians like Harris increasingly discuss this as a right. Yet the problems with this belief are numerous. While access to health care is a noble goal, they haven’t offered solutions that might actually lower the cost. Instead, they do various things like declare that it’s a right without considering the effects of supply and demand, and institute various cost-saving measures, price controls, and subsidies that don’t really go to the root of the problem.
Meaningful reform would lower the price of insurance to the point that nobody needs a mandate, subsidies, pontificating politicians and their lofty rhetoric, or price controls in order to buy it. When consumers feel the true cost of a product they look closely at the relative costs and benefits associated with their purchase and become much more discerning. For cable providers, consumers compare the overall price with the number of channels provided by cable, Dish, or Direct TV, along with the length of contract, included bonuses of free premium channels or Netflix, number of DVRs, and then make a savvy decision that maximizes the value of their purchase. In order to compete, the channel providers fall over themselves trying to provide the best value at the lowest price.
Consumers are that picky over their TV and phones, but in matters of health care they simply show up at a hospital and present the bill to their insurance companies or the government. Because they don’t feel the cost of their purchases, the market factors are distorted to the point that providers can charge 600 dollars for an epidural injector, knowing that insurance providers and the government will pay most of it.
That will only get worse if Medicare for all becomes a right. But instead of instituting free-market reforms, most politicians offer the same noble rhetoric that hides an incredibly expensive and increasingly bankrupt system that doesn’t end up helping all that much.