Several sites have been airing a snippet of William Shatner’s new TV show “Raw Nerve” where he interviews Rush Limbaugh. The part making the rounds is where Shatner asks Limbaugh about health care. It starts like this:
Shatner – “Here’s my premise and you agree with it or not: If you have money, you are going to get health care. If you don’t have money, it’s more difficult.”
Limbaugh – “If you have money you’re gonna get a house on the beach. If you don’t have money you’re gonna live in a bungalow somewhere.”
Shatner – “Right, but we’re talking about health care.”
Limbaugh – “What’s the difference?”
Shatner, to his credit, wasn’t having any of this, immediately pulling the topic back to the health care issue and away from analogies. However Limbaugh’s response confirms my belief that the far right considers the free market the best solution for every problem.
I agree with Rush’s point of view for discretionary health expenses like cosmetic surgery (not to be confused with cosmetic surgery to correct deformities). If you got the bucks for a face lift or nose job great, else get a bungalow somewhere. I also might have agreed with him several hundred years ago when the GNP wasn’t to a point where public health care was economically feasible and when the US would have been the first country on the planet (I believe) to create a public health care system. However, where I disagree with him is every other aspect of health care.
After 9/11 the US government set up survivor funds to help mitigate the disaster that befell those families who lost loved ones and bread-winners in the attacks. Each year countries around the world offer aid to regions affected by earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. In a real sense this aid seeks to re-establish the status-quo for those affected. Is there any difference between these calamities and the onset of diabetes or leukemia? Yet even here the analogy breaks down but, I believe, in health care’s favor. Excepting for the 9/11 attacks regions around the world are known to be earthquake or hurricane prone. People do have a choice (albeit perhaps a very small choice) of where they live. People do not have a choice on their genes. Modifying their lifestyle won’t help avoid leukemia, MS or Parkenson’s disease.
In 2002 John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo went on a shooting spree in the greater DC area. Randomly and without warning a bullet from Mr Muhammad’s sniper rifle could alter your life significantly or perhaps even kill you. We all felt outrage at the random injustice of someone being struck down by Mr Muhammad’s actions. Yet is there any difference in what Mr Muhammad did and what random chance does when we contract diseases that can strike us without warning and significantly alter our lives?
When I hear Rush Limbaugh comparing excellent health care to a beach front house that only the wealthy can afford it is not that big a leap for me to envision what he’d advocate to the residents of DC during Muhammand’s rampage. The wealthy could afford body guards and body armor. They could go about their business relatively risk free. In Rush’s world he’d be in favor of those who can afford it wearing body armor and those who can’t doing with out or perhaps even staying at home (if you can’t protect yourself then you shouldn’t be venturing outside). In this alternate world it is not that big a leap to envision how Rush would criticize these would-be victims for going out unprotected. “They knew there was a sniper out there. They chose to go out without body armor. That they got shot is their own fault.” The correct thing to do, of course, is what was done. Public dollars funded a police manhunt for the DC sniper. But in Rush’s world he’d rather spend his dollars to protect himself and no one else.
The above is my opinion, and a very strongly held opinion at that. However, as stated elsewhere even my strongly held opinions will fall under the weight of contrary evidence. Where an argument lends itself to evidence, my opinions are falsifiable. I doubt Rush’s are. Morally, free health care seems to be the right thing to do. But can we do it and should we? The biggest issues are financial, social and commercial.
Financially, can the US afford to offer “free” health care to all its citizens? If we can’t afford it, then that’s that. Health care is a “nice to have” but I wouldn’t want to bankrupt the country to get it. Fortunately the answer here appears to be “yes” mainly because so many other industrialized countries are doing so now. Furthermore since we’re currently spending 2x to 3x more than the other countries in health care, there is a strong chance that, if done right, we’d reduce our health care expense by reforming the system.
Socially, will free health care demotivate people from having a strong work ethic? With free health care will we become a nation of free loaders? The answer may cut both ways. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that drug abuse and risky behavior (cigarette smoking) is more prevalent in the poor than in the rich. Some of the poor may engage in these behaviors because they’ve lost hope. Free health care may restore hope to some of them and return them to being productive members of society. But this is an easy number to get at. One could examine data from countries before and after the adoption of public health care or one could run a trial in this country.
Commercially the concern would be, would a public health plan demotivate the health care industry to be less innovative? Note, for clarity here, I’m referring to drug research, disease research and whatever motivates people to become doctors and nurses in the first place. (This excludes the health insurance industry which is in the risk mitigation business and not really in the health industry.) If the US had a strong public health system would there be fewer dollars or in general would the pace of innovation in the health industry slow down? I do not know, but this also can be tested. Are companies based in countries with a strong public health plan as innovative as US companies? Where are the new drugs coming from? Where are the new research papers coming from? For those countries that we have records from before they adopted a public health plan, can we detect a change in health productivity? Is there a doctor shortage in these countries?
There’s a final commercial aspect to this. How many would-be entrepreneurs in this country are stuck at their current jobs because they’re afraid to branch out on their own for fear of losing their employer based health insurance? On the one hand if someone believes that there are a large number of such would-be entrepreneurs then free market logic would indicate that some agency would step up to the plate and offer group based insurance to entrepreneurs. After all health insurance is largely available to any large body that can negotiate group rates. But just because some agency hasn’t yet risen to meet this need doesn’t necessarily mean the need isn’t there. This one may be harder to quantify via comparisons to other countries because the US may already be above the curve in entrepreneurship. But it’s a factor that needs to be considered.
Shatner’s interview with Rush Limbaugh has not aired yet on TV, but the clip making the rounds ends:
Shatner – “The sum total of what I want to ask you, politically, is HOW DO YOU KNOW?”
Limbaugh – “It’s my job. It’s my life. It’s my career. It’s my passion.”
Rush is claiming to be an expert on everything yet he’s offering no proof. He’s essentially saying “I’m an expert, trust me.” Experts who are truly worth their salt also know how to explain the issues to novices. Arguments that are fact-free are just shouting matches. Rush’s answer to Shatner’s question shows that he has no data. Asking us to trust him because he says he’s an expert is incongruous to the Right’s mantra to think for yourself and be self sufficient.
** By easy I mean in comparison to a $1 trillion health care package. It may still be a difficult number for NewsWithNumbers to get.