Over the weekend, the state media scrambled around to try to piece together details of the universal health plan being offered by Wisconsin Senate DemocratsÂ in the state budget.Â This article from the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday caught my eye as being particularly interesting.
WhileÂ there are parts of the article thatÂ I would accuse of being too favorableÂ to the universal health care plan (like, the first six paragraphs, for instance), I do actually have some sympathy for how difficult it is to cover your typical \”liberal versus conservative\” types of topics.Â As a general rule, people who benefit from new government programs are pretty easy to track down.Â On the other hand, the people who pay for such a program, and therefore would be in strident opposition, are the taxpayers – who are spread out and largely disinterested.
For instance, let\’s say the Senate was proposing a new $2 million program to benefitÂ the Wisconsin Society of People with No Lips.Â When the bill isÂ up on the floor, all the State Journal has to do is call someone with no lips to tellÂ them (as best as they can, at least) how great the bill is.Â The downside, of course, to passing the bill is that you couldn\’t tell if it really made the lipless people all that happy – since they\’d be smiling anyway.Â Although they wouldn\’tÂ look quite as surprised as the Wisconsin Society of People With No Eyelids when their bill passed.
On the other hand, it would be harder to track down people who are anti-lipless and think the free market could better serve their needs.Â First, the cost of the program would be minimal when spread throughout all taxpayers, so nobody really gets all that upset.Â The problem is, when you stack program upon program upon program like that – each with a supposed \”minimal\” effect on taxpayers – you end up as the 8th highest taxed state in the nation, as Wisconsin is now.
Furthermore, plans to \”help\” specific groups are much easier to explain to people than market forces.Â Conservatives argue that on health care, we\’re not really operating in a free market with all of the state mandates on health plans and other government regulations.Â If doctors and health plans had transparency in pricing, had to compete for patients, and had the flexibility to offer more specialized care, then health care costs would come down.Â But try to explain this to someone who thinks their health care bills are too high, and you\’ll get a glazed stare.
So reporters find someone who wants free health care (look to your left, then to your right – there\’s a 90% chance both of those people fit the bill).Â Then, as a counterpoint, they need someone who understands market economics.Â I imagine the exchange goes something like this:
Q:Â \”Do you want free health care?\”
Q:Â \”Do you want your employer to provide you with a tax-free health savings account, which would allow you to choose your health care services, which would make health care more subject to the forces of market competition, which would eventually hold down the price of going to the doctor?\”
A:Â \”Can I have a sandwich?\”
The immediate constituency for government funds will always be more politically active than any looseÂ arrangement of taxpayers who may dislike paying high taxes.Â Sure, there are business groups that oppose higher taxes, but at a high-scale public hearing, those groups are going to be outnumbered 10 to 1.
In the case of this health care plan, the people who want free health care are easy to find.Â The 8,100Â minimum wage workers who areÂ expected to lose their jobs (according to the Lewin Actuarial Analysis) are harder to trackÂ down, since none of them know if they\’d be the ones on the chopping block – they\’ll only know after it is too late.Â The 53%Â of Wisconsin residents who are going to end up paying more for health care than they do now are probably equally as difficult toÂ find – because everything is up in the air at this point.
In the end, it may end up that all this health care plan accomplished was to give Democrats a bargaining chip in the budget process.Â There\’s very little chance that it will pass, and its hurried introduction and sham public hearing are evidence that it\’s not a serious proposal.Â In that case,Â Senate DemocratsÂ may have ended up giving false hope toÂ their people who really need cheaper health care.Â And that would be a cruel irony.