Opinion

What if I don't want health insurance?

The government is trying to force me to buy it, but absent federal meddling, the price of medical care would return to reasonable levels.

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I'm one of the nearly 50 million Americans who don't have health insurance. I don't want it, either.

But the bill the House of Representatives is debating would force me to buy it. How good can any product be if Congress compels me to purchase it?

Politicians and interest groups have been trying virtually all my life to foist medical insurance on me. But their proposals rest on mistaken and even insulting assumptions.

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First, they presume that everyone wants, needs, and should have abundant medical attention. But I come from a long-lived and healthy family, I've been a vegetarian since childhood because I've never liked the way meat tastes, I don't smoke, and I love to hike – the more miles the better.

I am disgustingly healthy, so much so that the only doctors I see – or try to: I'm near-sighted – are ophthalmologists. Could I be hit by a bus tomorrow when I head out for my daily walk? Possibly. But that's such an unlikely disaster that I've chosen to spend my money on more personally pressing needs than medical insurance.

On the other hand, unlikely disasters do happen. So I might purchase catastrophic coverage if it were reasonably priced – just as I might visit doctors for lesser complaints if their care were reasonably priced.

But the government's meddling is what helped mess-up the medical market to begin with.

The federal government perverts costs with its Medicare and Medicaid programs: Recipients of this largess have no incentive to save money since someone else pays their bills.

In fact, the incentives run the opposite way as patients demand more procedures and tests while magnifying problems I resolve out of my medicine cabinet into emergency-room runs. Doctors who get away with charging Medicare hundreds for diagnosing Grandpa's indigestion would charge me the same.

Meanwhile, state governments shackle the insurance industry, mandating that policies cover everything from chiropractic care to hormone replacement. These launch premiums into the stratosphere. I'd much rather pick and choose the coverage I want at a price I'm willing to pay than buy the plan bureaucrats and special interests decree.

But the universal-healthcare crowd thinks it knows better than I do how to spend my money. Why can't they leave me alone? I'm not forcing them to eat flaxseed and bike to meetings instead of hopping into their limousines. It's time for them to return the favor.

Besides, if that bus does hit me tomorrow, I want – and will pay for – top-notch care. And that's not what government-run medical systems dispense. Delays, expedient rather than proper treatment, and double standards of care depending on who you are and whom you know characterize universal-healthcare systems.

Which makes sense. We live in a world of finite resources and infinite desires, where medical care must be "rationed" like all other products and services.

Though we can't choose whether goods are rationed, we can choose how they are. Either the politicians and bureaucrats who bring us long lines at DMVs, failing public schools, and the endless war in Iraq will decide who gets what kind of treatment, or the free market will.

Fans of universal healthcare deride the market: They say it's cold and cruel because we each have to pay for the care we demand. But government healthcare can be far colder and crueler. Its care is inferior: Contrast an inferior, run-down veteran's hospital with a general one. And it's expensive. Dr. Jeffrey Anderson recently wrote in Investor's Business Daily, "Since 1970 ­– even without the prescription drug benefit – Medicare's costs have risen 34 percent more, per patient, than the combined costs of all health care in America apart from Medicare and Medicaid…."

Absent such meddling, the price of medical care would return to reasonable levels. It benefits no provider of any service to charge such astronomical fees that customers can't afford to patronize him.

Then, too, in a market free of the state's stranglehold, doctors and hospitals would compete with one another to lower prices and attract the ill or injured.

That doesn't mean everyone could finally buy all the procedures they wanted or even needed – but that's where private charity would come in. Humanitarians who send inner-city kids to summer camp and volunteer their time or money at soup kitchens would strive to ensure that needy Americans received medical care.

President Obama says, "We have no choice but to fix the healthcare system because right now it's broken for too many Americans." But the only fix we need is for government to get out of medicine.

Becky Akers is a freelance writer and historian.

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