BOSTON — In the 1987 horror film The Lost Boys, Lucy, a single mom, moves to a small idyllic town on the California coast with her two sons. Shortly thereafter she begins dating Max, a responsible, well-mannered local business owner, the perfect man to bring order to her unruly sons’ lives — or so she thinks. Her sons are a bit skeptical, but too preoccupied battling teenage bloodsuckers to pay his eccentricities much mind, although his insistence on not stepping foot in their house until the oldest son invites him in does raise a red flag. Later Max reveals himself to be the vampire colony leader and is not inclined to leave when asked. “Don’t ever invite a vampire into your house, you silly boy. It renders you powerless,” he laughs.
Now, to be clear, I do not expect Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to pull off an elaborate mask moments after signing a bill bringing universal health care to the Bay State, thereby revealing himself to be a certain senator from New York. (No, not Schumer.) In point of fact, during a lengthy chat with Romney for a profile that ran in the March edition of TAS, one of the first things the governor said when I broached the topic of health-care reform was, unequivocally, “I oppose the concept of Hillarycare,” and then, “Republicans believe in health care, just like Democrats. We just believe the right approach is not a government takeover, but, instead, the application of free market principles.”
Nevertheless, when Joe Klein calls Romney’s health-care plan “rather remarkable” and Ted Kennedy is asking to be on hand for the signing ceremony and Hillary Clinton herself is weighing in favorably (i.e. not sarcastically frowning or smirking) and the New York Times really, really loves the idea…Well, fiscal conservatives can perhaps be forgiven for instinctively reaching for come garlic bulbs and a flask of holy water.
Doubtless, Romney’s pursuit of an individual mandate system compelling those with the means (as determined by the government, which we all know has always been so in touch with ordinary peoples’ lives) to purchase health insurance while simultaneously subsidizing the insurance costs of those individuals or families within a stone’s throw of the federal poverty line is much preferable to a single-payer socialized health-care system freezing out competition and innovation. Actually, Reason’s Ronald Bailey makes a persuasive argument in favor of the individual mandate system. The Heritage Foundation, Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily have all made similar noises to one degree or another as well. Perhaps such a compromise is the only way to avoid a single-payer system disaster. It’s politically smart, as well.
The nagging question remains, however: Does anyone know what exactly has been invited in? Considering government programs’ tendency to expand, not contract, it is probably advisable to treat them all as Maxes until significant proof to the contrary is uncovered. Once the government is in, it is in for the duration. Next stop, the fall of Rome.
And, unlike vampires, government programs don’t have a heart you can drive stake through. (Or fit in a bathtub for drowning, as Grover Norquist might prefer.)
FOR THOSE A BIT PARANOID about where this could all lead, a fascinating new study by the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner is unlikely to deliver pleasant dreams.
“Individual mandates cross an important practical and philosophical line: once we accept the principle that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that every American has health insurance, we guarantee ever more government involvement with and control over large portions of our health care system,” he writes, in the paper’s penultimate paragraph garnished with disturbing statistics. “Compulsory, government-defined insurance opens the door to even more widespread regulation of the health care industry and political interference in personal health care decisions. The result will be a slow but steady spiral downward toward a government run national health care system.”
Unfortunately, a few signs are already pointing in Tanner’s direction. The bill has not even been signed yet and the Boston Globe is already reporting the price tag might go well beyond what is being stated at the outset, shades of the federal prescription drug bill. Between federal grants and state payouts somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion will be spent on the plan in the 2007 fiscal year, but the predictable whining cries of under-funding from advocacy groups have already begun.
Even if this plays out perfectly, it is not difficult to imagine this spiraling out of control should Democrats take over the Governor’s office in 2006 after Romney retires. Combine that with the likely retention of the Democratic Party’s 85 percent stranglehold on the legislature and it will be time to get the peoples’ checkbook out and start re-buying those votes they may have lost. Will Democrats let themselves be outdone by a former Republican governor bragging on the presidential campaign trail about delivering universal health care? Such a scenario seems exceedingly unlikely.
It will never be enough, if the current rate of “preventative care” expansion continues unabated. In his gushing Time piece on Romney’s plan, Joe Klein asks rhetorically, “If a 28-year-old software designer doesn’t want to buy health insurance, why should the government force him to do so?” One beat, two beats. “Simple answer: fairness. The rest of us pay for it now when he drives his motorcycle into a tree and runs up a huge medical bill.” True, as far as it goes, although drunks start injurious fights and bicyclists are hurt more easily in accidents than those riding in cars. We’re all paying for that, too. Further, as Cato’s Tanner points out, since the 1960s state legislatures have loved forcing insurance companies to cover any number of procedures outside of tree collisions, including hair transplants, massage therapy and pastoral counseling. Drawing a fairness line could get fairly arbitrary. So since we’re using our imaginations: Why should some 28 year-old software engineer — once he gets out of the hospital, of course — pay for a 45-year-old porn store clerk’s hair transplant?
As David Jones recently noted, “It is understandable that we would demand great health care with a trusted physician of our choosing and coverage for all the ailments at which you can shake a pointed stick. That all makes sense. Demanding it all for a $5 copay with no limits on services, though, is ridiculous. We consumers are demanding an awful lot without wanting to shoulder much of the burden for the attendant costs.”
THEN AGAIN, SURVEYING THE POLITICAL landscape, is it possible to believe a politician willing to sandpaper the slippery slope enough that we can get the foothold necessary to climb back out of it is coming along? Or are we left mostly to hope a handful of politicians such as Romney will find the closest free-market solution addressing the statist desires of the general populace?
The quote the Boston Globe chose to end its story on the new plan is not exactly comforting on that point, mining this pearl of wisdom from 37-year-old Michael Bonner, “a professional musician from Somerville who said he earns in the $50,000 to $60,000 range” and has been “uninsured for more than three years, partly because it’s expensive”: “I sort of put it out of my mind, the worry that comes with not being insured,” he said. “This encourages me to resolve things for myself. I think it would be a relief.”
Frightening, isn’t it? Without the steady hand of government, Bonner and the rest of us might actually have to tend to our own affairs and think for ourselves every once in a while. How this all works out, only time will tell.
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