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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Cindy A. Rose |


As Long as We Remember...

September 17, 2009

Living in an Insane World

Patricia A. Kelly

For at least the past one hundred years, the government of the United States of America has increasingly encroached upon the lives of the people.


Perhaps beginning with attempts to control sweatshops and robber barons, moving on to Prohibition, to cigarette and whisky taxes, Social Security, mortgage interest deductions, Medicare and Medicaid, tariffs, to the suggested soft drink tax, government keeps on growing and personal freedom keeps on shrinking.


We’re so used to it that we don’t even know its happening. Do you really think we need a mortgage interest deduction to make us want to buy a house? A deduction to make us want to have a baby? Both of these, in my view, are government throwing the middle class a bone, pretending that government regulations are really there to help us, when they are so often the product of negotiations for gain for a few.


Think for a moment of the benefit to the building and banking industries of that mortgage interest tax deduction. Think also of the government-directed loosening of requirements to obtain such loans. Do they really help the consumer, or just encourage the habit of indebtedness? My financial advisor has told me that I should never pay off my house because of the benefit of the mortgage tax deduction. That advice from a very conservative and credible advisor means that I live in an insane world.


Our tax code is a complete manipulation of our economy, so long and complicated by now that it is a monster feeding on itself. What would happen if everyone above the poverty line paid the same percentage of income as tax, and there were no deductions?


The answer is that we would return to a free market. We would invest for gain, buy things because we wanted them and could afford them. We would shop for the best price and the best quality, never spending time considering the tax consequences. Businesses without desirable products would simply fail, or adapt to the needs surrounding them. I am convinced that our taxes would decrease if we adopted this “flat tax” plan, one reason being that everyone would pay their share, even those who now spend much of their energy working for tax deductions.


The Internal Revenue Service could shrink to a few computers and a staff of 12, as there would be nothing for them to figure out in terms of complex returns. The only question would be, “Did everyone pay?”


This same reasoning applies to health care reform. The way things are now, we don’t even know how much our bills are, because we never pay them. We buy insurance. This is, by the way, the only circumstance in which we call paying for services we know we’ll need insurance.


We don’t much shop around for the best doctor for the best price, or the hospital with the most comfortable beds, or the best cleanliness, or the best nurse/patient ratios. We just wander along like sheep, with someone else paying the bill. Even if we try to find out the price of things, it’s hard to get information. Prices vary a lot, depending on insurance negotiations.


If we were paying for our own care, we would look for the best value for our money. We would find the best doctor we could, and we would consider carefully the risk/benefit ratio of tests and treatments. In other words, we would give our health care choices as much consideration as we give to the choice of our new cars.


Even if we were paying for our own insurance, we would shop around, and have more motivation to obtain value than we do under employer-funded plans.


In a free market, hospitals and health care providers would be motivated to take good care of us for a reasonable price, and would compete with each other. The best doctors would make the most money, as we lined up outside their offices to see them. The health care system would be motivated to operate both efficiently and effectively. We would shop around for prescriptions, buying them by mail from other countries if we couldn‘t get a good price here. (Don’t believe for one minute that the quality might not be the same in a reputable pharmacy in another country. That idea is a pharmaceutical company myth.)


I was without insurance for awhile, and learned that, barring catastrophe, I paid much less for health care than I did while insured.  I even got a special deal through a health-related organization on a comprehensive series of screening blood tests. At the same time, a friend at work told me that her insurance had changed, denying her coverage for screening blood tests. Her bill, for fewer tests than I got, was three times mine, in an equivalent local lab. The whole experience of attempting to keep the quality of my care high while paying out of pocket was quite illuminating to say the least.


What if you could buy catastrophic health insurance, to cover you, for example, if you got hit by a car and needed $100,000 worth of care? What if your employer gave you the money that he pays for your health insurance and you saved it up and used it to buy care?


I read an article recently, recommended by Fareed Zakaria on his program GPS on CNN. It’s in The Atlantic and called “How the American Health Care System Killed My Father.” I don’t agree with everything the author said, but found it filled with great ideas, a very worthwhile read. Check it out online.


The article reminded me of how much our health care system contributed to the deaths of not only my father, but also my grandfather and grandmother. Truly, if they had been focused on the patients as the consumers of their health care, instead of their insurance companies, their bills might never have been paid, just as one might not pay if their new car turned out to be a lemon.


Do you think the surgeon who failed to even biopsy my grandmother’s melanoma, or the doctor who failed to notice that my grandfather’s prostate was obstructing his urine flow, until urine backed up into his kidneys and killed him, deserved to be paid? Medicare did.


I wonder if that is contributing to the number of medical errors each year.


The thing that made America unique in the world was the freedom of its people to achieve, and to enjoy the benefits of that achievement. We are now strangling on bureaucratic red tape.


Rather than more government “benefits,” we need our government to do as originally intended – give us the safety, space and freedom to create our own lives. That, unfortunately, still requires a lot of government, making and enforcing regulations that prevent unfair treatment of each other, people being capable of so much evil.


Personal freedom and fairness for all, within the limits of the law, must be our goal, however. It’s the American way.


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