Imagine that I came to you and informed that you needed a new car. Imagine that I informed you that I would be choosing your new car based on what I saw as your needs, and that I would be delivering that new car sometime in the future. Imagine that I then delivered that new car, and that I then sent you a bill for what I determined was the appropriate price. Imagine that I then demanded payment, and when you announced that you could not afford that price, I sued you for the full price, that I got a judgment, and that I collected on that judgment by foreclosing on your house.
Insane? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. UnAmerican? Yes. Happens every day? Yes. Some time ago I went to an oral surgeon. He informed me that I needed to have dental implants. I asked him how much I would have to pay for those implants. He seemed somewhat insulted, informed me that he had no idea and that perhaps his assistant could tell me. His assistant, after some hesitation, then informed me that the bill would be something in excess of twenty thousand ($20,000) dollars. Not long afterwards, I went to a lung doctor and told him that I would like a prescription to replace the sleep machine that I had been using for the last twenty years. He said that, in order to get the new sleep machine, I would have, for some reason I still cannot grasp, go into a hospital overnight for a sleep test. I presume the reason was that I needed to determine whether I needed the sleep machine that I had used successfully for twenty years. When I asked him how much that would cost, his nurse said, “What do you care? It’s covered by insurance.” I underwent the sleep test, after which the doctor gave me the needed prescription. I bought a new sleep machine. It cost me just over $300. The sleep test, however, cost more than $5000.
These are just a few minor examples of what is going on every day in our health system. We are bleeding money into a system that is unimaginably out of control. The annual increase in cost of living in the United States over the last eight years has been negligible, while the cost of medical care in that same period has doubled. Why? Because it can. The providers of needed medicines, for instance, have on various occasions doubled and tripled and quadrupled (and more) the price of their products simply on the grounds that nobody can stop them from doing so. People who depend on those products for their very lives, diabetics and the hyperallergic and others, have had neither a choice nor a say in the matter.
This medical system is every bit as insane as the example of the car. Yet it is exactly how we receive and pay for medical care in the United States. It is also anti-conservative. Real conservatism is, among other things, a commitment to an economic system of fair and open markets. It encourages open competition. It supports the efforts of entrepreneurs, who bring to the market the new products and services that create that competition. It contends, rightly, that such competition will provide the populace with the best products and services for the best prices.
The present system of medical pricing fundamentally violates that conservative economic ideal. It does so by controlling both supply and demand. It creates a supply of a product or service, and then it informs its customers that they need that supply. Then, having short-circuited the conservative system of free markets, it sets whatever prices it wants on those products and services.
Our present economy will collapse if we allow this insanity to continue. Employers and their employees and other individuals are paying outrageous amounts of money to cover the cost of health care in the United States. Our only salvation is to return to the sound thinking of conservatism. We can do that by taking away demand from the medical providers and putting it where it belongs, in the hands of the consumer. How do we do that? No individual can do it, because the industries that are gouging us can ignore any individual. The only way we can do it is by banding together and refusing to pay these scandalous, out-of-control prices for medical care.
How do we do that? Well, we could, for instance, bargain collectively, say, by forming an association of all consumers of medical care. Let’s call it, for lack of a better term, a union. Then we could elect representatives from our union to negotiate with the medical providers for better prices. Oh, I forgot. Conservatives don’t like unions.
Okay, well, we could have the government negotiate for us. We could elect political leaders who would pass legislation requiring the medical industry to provide medical care for all of us at reasonable prices as determined by a legislative group. We could call such legislation the Act to Provide Affordable Care to all Americans (APACA) or something like that. Oh, I forgot. Conservatives don’t like that either.
Really? Does real conservatism want to keep allowing medical providers to charge us into oblivion? No. Not on your life. That view is unfaithful to true conservatism. True conservatism does not object to socializing in the appropriate circumstances. It does not, for instance, object to socializing the cost of national and local defense. It does not object to socializing the cost of common spaces, such as parks and zoos and common spaces. It does not object to socializing the cost of fighting fires. It does not object to socializing the cost of education.
I put it to you that socializing, in some way, the cost of medical care is fully in accord with the principles of true conservatism. Where there is a universal need, and where the cost of supplying that universal need can only be done in a cost-effective manner by socializing that cost, true conservatism requires that it be socialized.
This key point is an indication that true conservatism has been co-opted by a different, a malevolent, anti-conservative, actually anti-American force. Those who would profit mightily by eliminating a free market have a stranglehold on the cost of medical care. They have done so by pretending that they are conservatives, but they are nothing of the kind. They desire not democracy but economic totalitarianism. To effect that end, they have gained control of what used to be the party of conservatism, what used to be the Republican party.
We are desperately in need of true conservatism, just as we are desperately in need of the reasoned debate between the principles of liberalism and principles of true conservatism. It is that reasoned debate that worked to help us move toward the fulfillment of the American ideal in the past, and it is the suppression of that debate that is dragging us backward, away from fulfilling that ideal. The death of that debate spells the death of the American ideal. Let us pray that moment has not come.