Government health programs are sold as providing access to medical care, but they also restrict access. The rules that govern Medicare discourage doctors from taking on elderly patients. Government health programs guide doctors away from some treatments, and steer them toward others. And, we know from other countries with government-run health systems, that if we go the route of a “public option” for health insurance, such rationing will get worse.
Many have applauded the new law that gives government more leeway to regulate cigarettes. Most mothers instinctively celebrate anything that promises to help keep their children from smoking. Economists and policymakers will debate if efforts to restrict access to cigarettes actually results in more healthy behavior: will kids really smoke less or will it encourage a black market, introducing kids to more dangerous people and products? That empirical question is important, but there's something more fundamental: Isn't it really our jobs, as parents, to discourage our children from smoking? Where does the role of government as parent end?
Such government action is often justified as necessary to promote good health and protect taxpayers since government picks up so much of the health care tab. Thus one expansion of government leads to another.
Once we accept that logic, why should government stop there? There are numerous behaviors that create public health costs, from eating fattening foods and drinking sugary drinks, to driving, hang gliding, playing football, sunbathing and having sex outside of marriage. Should government discourage these behaviors? Many will look at the list and find one that they think justifies government action and then shake their heads that it's absurd for government to be involved in the others.
But our heads shake at different things. The founders knew that. That's why they sought to limit government and leave the vast majority of decisions to individuals. Individuals were supposed to keep nearly all of their property so that they could provide for their own healthcare and houses, take care of their children, and pursue their idea of happiness free of government interference. That faith in the individual is the core of our country. It's worth celebrating—and preserving—today.
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