What About Those “Free Riders”?
So to review, our sanctimony and hand-wringing has only served to push the debate toward their home turf. That’s unfortunate and crazy, since there are perfectly good conservative arguments in favor of universal healthcare. It’s time to start actually using them.
The talking points go something like this: Passing a law that raises the uninsured rate may be cruel, but above all else, it’s a blow to fiscal responsibility and efficiency. It puts people in a position where the most logical and reasonable course of action is to pay nothing into the system and avoid relatively cheap primary care. If some catastrophe hits, they then fling themselves on the nearest emergency room, a place where single aspirin pills always seem to cost $53. The considerable bills for those services rendered might be put on a payment plan, but odds are good they’ll end up getting dismissed by a bankruptcy judge, so the hospital eats the cost by passing it along to everyone else. (This has always struck me as the perfect definition of socialized medicine.)
If that doesn’t sound expensive enough, consider the poor, the addicted, and the mentally ill in your town. Not out of empathy, of course (God forbid). Think about what it’s like to be you, a comfortable, well-insured member of the middle class, living in the same city with those people. And think about everything you have to lose if they don’t have access to healthcare.
If poor people avoid preventative medicine, they are more likely to carry communicable diseases, which you are then more likely to get, so you lose. If they become too sick to work, their contributions to Medicare and Social Security go down just as their dependency on welfare goes up. And it makes it harder for any kids in the picture to move on to bigger and better things, which you will pay for later. You lose again, again, and again.
And what of the addicts? You’re welcome to dismiss them as a bunch of hopeless losers, but that doesn’t make them go away. Less money for treatment means more theft, more vagrancy, more trips to the ER to treat overdoses, more cops, and more jail cells. You get to pay for it all, and lose again. And the mentally ill? A few therapy visits may make the difference between graduating from high school or not, and that’s a difference of tens of thousands of dollars into the federal treasury through various payroll taxes. Fail to push that situation toward the right direction, and you lose again.
Cutting subsidies to poor people’s health insurance only saves money if they are all suddenly raptured the second they get booted off their plan. Back in the real world, it just means they pay for nothing until things get so bad that the rest of us swoop in and pay for everything. That’s a living conservative nightmare, and all the more reason we should refocus our healthcare finance debate. It’s true that this repeal bill is cruel, but conservatives won’t listen to that argument. Luckily, it’s also true that this bill goes against everything conservatives stand for, and I like our chances with that.
---Peter Rice is the author of Liberal for Conservative Reasons: How to stop being obnoxious and start winning elections, which is available on Amazon. Contact him through peterbrice.com.