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Sunday, August 6, 2017
Government Can’t Fix Healthcare
Bob McEwen for PragerU, Guest Columnist
Why is the government so bad at healthcare?
They’ve been at it for seventy-five years and still can’t get it right. It’s
expensive. Access is spotty. It’s mired in bureaucracy. And it’s fraught with
Obamacare was supposed to fix all this, but
instead, like every other government healthcare program before it, it just made
Why? Because the government is a third-party
payer. Let me explain.
Suppose you are going to buy something for
yourself. You have two priorities: price and quality. You want the highest
quality for the lowest possible price.
Say you’re buying a television. You have many
options: the size of the screen, the quality of the image, the price. Only you
know which one best suits your needs and your budget. And a lot of companies
are competing for your business. You do your research; you make your
This is called a first-party purchase – the
person paying is the person using.
Now, let’s suppose that either the price or
quality is not controlled by you; in this case, you are buying something for
someone else. You care about the price because you are paying for it, but you
are a little more flexible on the quality. A good example would be a wedding
gift – say, a coffee maker.
You might think, by the time it breaks
they’ll forget who gave it to them anyway…the cheaper one will be fine.
All of us have bought things for others we never
would have bought for ourselves. We care about the price because we’re paying
for it, but not so much about the quality because we’re not going to use it.
Or, suppose that we’re going to use something,
but we’re not going to pay for it. Then we’re concerned about the quality because
we’re consuming it, but the cost is not as important because we’re not paying
for it. Any father who ever got roped into paying for an open bar at a wedding
understands this program. Nobody ever orders the cheap stuff when it’s
These are called second-party purchases. The
person paying is not the person using.
And now, for the coup de grace: when
it is not your money paying for something, AND you don’t use it. Then
you’re not concerned about either the price or the quality.
Suppose the boss gives you $150 to buy a door
prize for the office party. In a store window, you see a six-foot tall stuffed
frog marked $149. You think, Oh, that’s perfect – let’s buy it. The raffle
winner is awarded the six-foot frog. Everyone laughs at the gag.
Now, this is called a third-party
purchase – a purchase that is made with money that is not yours (therefore you
don’t care about the cost) to buy something you’re not going to consume
(therefore you don’t care about the quality).
Here’s the point: By definition, all government
purchases are third-party purchases. The government spends other people's
money on things it won't consume. It doesn’t care about the price or the
quality. Thus, there will always be waste in government spending.
That is why, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln,
government should do only those things that a man can’t do better for himself.
If 300 million Americans were free to buy health
insurance for themselves, just as they buy their own life and home and car
insurance, then that little gecko on television would offer us health insurance
with a little more coverage for a little less cost.
And he wouldn’t be the only one. Insurance
companies and hospitals would be working night and day to get our business.
Quality would go up, and prices would go down. It’s already happened with laser
eye surgery. It used to cost $2,200 per eye. Now it can cost as low as $500 per
eye. That’s the way free enterprise competition works…every time.
But when the government gets involved, costs go
up, waste and fraud go up, essential medical services are denied or
unavailable. These are the hallmarks of government healthcare bureaucracies
around the globe.
The sooner we make health insurance a first-party
purchase again, the sooner Americans will get the health
care they want…finally.
PragerU helps millions of Americans
understand the fundamental values that shaped America and provides the
resources to articulate them. See the video “Government Can’t Fix Healthcare”
at PragerU.com. Published with
Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self
Governance (CSG) Administrative Team. CSG is a non-profit, non-partisan
educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in applied civics. The
authors include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists. The
views expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the views of
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