Thomas Sowell

Whenever I hear about how many Americans do not have health insurance, my usual response is to wish that I were one of them.

That does not mean that I want to continue paying taxes and insurance premiums without getting the benefits. It means that I would rather pay doctors and pharmacies directly, without sending the money through bureaucratic channels in the government and the insurance companies, with all the restrictions and red tape that bureaucrats produce.

Neither bureaucracies nor red tape is free. So we are talking about my having to pay more money for things I don't want, rather than paying just for what I do want, namely medical care and prescription medicine.

What about catastrophic illnesses that can be as devastating to your life's savings as it is to your health? That is one of the legitimate uses of insurance, to guard against the unforeseeable. We have automobile insurance for the same reason -- but our automobile insurance does not cover gasoline or oil changes.

"Universal health care" means insuring against the trivial and the catastrophic alike. Most of us have no problem with buying insurance to cover catastrophes. But it is a waste to have us drawn into a bureaucratic maze, in order to cover routine things like annual checkups or occasional antibiotics.

Like so many welfare state programs, government health insurance is based ultimately on an implicit assumption of getting something for nothing. I must confess to a certain grudging admiration for the fellow who said, "The government has its own money." At least he made explicit what is only implicit in others.

If the government indeed has its own money, and is gracious enough to spend some of it on me, what is there for me to do but express my thanks and get on the gravy train? On the other hand, if the government has only the money that it takes from the rest of us, how are we better off to have to pay not only for what we want but also for all the hoops we have to jump through to get it?

Just as there is no free lunch, there are no free hoops.

Some believe -- contrary to all evidence -- that the government can provide things cheaper, that it can "bring down the cost of health care," for example.

Virtually everything that the government does costs more than when the same thing is done in private industry -- whether it is building housing, running prisons, collecting garbage, or innumerable other things. Why in the world would we imagine that health care would be the exception?

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate