For all our policy differences, there are a few economic ideas that liberals and conservatives can usually agree on. For example, we all tend to believe that lower prices are good. Everyone loves a sale, whether it’s on iPods or red delicious apples.
So Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria is on the right track in a recent column as he notes a key problem with Obamacare: “Unless the meteoric rise of health-care costs is slowed, a big expansion of coverage might well remain unpopular, no matter how it is explained.”
But having identified increasing costs as a legitimate concern, Zakaria proposes the wrong solution: more federal intervention. “[O]nly the government can produce system-wide improvements,” he writes, so “having us spend more of the money ourselves is unlikely to solve the cost crisis in health care.”
So how are those “system-wide improvements” coming along? “The Internal Revenue Service wants to add about 4,000 agents to hunt down tax cheats and still plans to spend $303 million building a system to oversee Obamacare,” the Washington Examiner reported in March.
That’s right: Long before Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote Obamacare to call the individual mandate a tax rather than a penalty, the IRS was already gearing up to oversee health care reform.
That’s sad, but predictable.
More government control means health care would be controlled more by bureaucrats and less by patients, doctors, and nurses. And, as James Capretta wrote last month:
[T]he government is not adept at micromanaging how health care should be delivered to patients. When the government is given this much authority and discretion, it does not result in higher-quality care for patients. Rather, it leads to price controls and one-size-fits-all regulations that misallocate resources and lead to access problems. It will only be a matter of time before the federal government uses its new powers to impose even more top-down cost controls on the health system, to the detriment of the quality of American health care.
As Matthew Spalding explained in his book We Still Hold These Truths, the Obamacare debate is an example of “the striking difference between a free market system based on rewarding the dynamism of the human spirit and a centrally planned system that suppresses capitalism in order to redistribute wealth and limit individual opportunity. Too much government regulation of our economic system subverts the very foundations of liberty.”
Instead, we should move toward “a real consumer-based marketplace for health insurance, where insurers and providers are compelled to compete based on quality and price.” Over time, that will tend to bring prices down, which would be an outcome all Americans could support.