Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants all Californians to have medical insurance. So he's going to force them to have it.
Schwarzenegger abandoned his opposition to mandated employer-based health insurance and embraced the idea as his own. "Everyone in California must have insurance. If you can't afford it, the state will help you buy it, but you must be insured," Schwarzenegger said last month.
Of course, his "solution" won't solve the problem. By making medical care look cheap to people, expanded insurance will push prices up even faster. Everyone will end up paying more. But politicians benefit because the costs will be hidden.
The governor also wants to enlarge the state's coverage for children by including people with incomes as high as $60,000 for a family of four. Imagine that: You can make $60,000 a year and put your kids on the dole.
This ought to dispel any notion that Schwarzenegger is a believer in small government. Here he is following former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney down the path of state socialized medicine. Romney said compulsory insurance would cost a person $2,400 a year. But now we know it's at least $4,560.
This is not to say we don't have a medical mess on our hands. We do, but the problems have their roots in existing government activity. More such activity is unlikely to make things better.
The root of the problem is that few people face the true cost of medical care. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries don't because taxpayers pay their bills. People with employer-based medical insurance don't because insurance policies shield them from it. Since they pay only small co-pays when they see a doctor, they don't ask, "Do I really need that test?" but rather, "Does my insurance cover it?"
People who don't face the full cost of their choices don't act like cost-conscious consumers. Higher prices result.
With a rational government policy, people would save money for routine medical care and buy insurance for solvency-threatening illness. After all, we don't buy auto insurance to pay for oil changes and worn-out windshield-wiper blades. But today, people expect medical insurance to cover routine physical exams because someone else seems to pay the premiums.