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The Healthcare Herring

February 16, 2011

Tags HealthInterventionismOther Schools of Thought

[An MP3 audio file of this article, narrated by Keith Hocker, is available for download.]

Although it has somewhat abated since passing almost a year ago, the debate over "Obamacare" is still going strong. The House of Representatives decided to repeal the legislation, but the Senate failed to follow suit — extending the law’s 15 minutes of fame.

This article, however, is not about the contents of Obama's signature bill as much as it is about the argument used by those in favor of it. The more I have listened to its proponents defend this bill's efficiency, its feasibility, and its very existence, I have noticed that there is a common theme in all of them: a logical fallacy known as a "red herring."

For those who may not be familiar with logical fallacies, a red herring is defined as introducing irrelevant facts or arguments to distract from the question at hand. For example, suppose person A and person B are debating whether spaghetti tastes better than lasagna, and person B brings up the point that spaghetti is better because it isn't as fattening. This would be a red herring, because which dish is most fattening was not the issue at hand. If person A isn't careful, he may get sucked into an entirely different debate. This is precisely what has happened in the debate over healthcare, where we see pundits arguing, exclusively, the merits of Obamacare instead of any number of alternatives.

In 1982 Ron Paul and Lewis Lehrman wrote an excellent piece called The Case for Gold: A Minority Report. In it, Congressman Paul recounts an experience he had with a reporter:

The date the Gold Commission officially voted and rejected the gold standard — a foregone conclusion from the very beginning — the Washington Post headline read, "Commission Votes Against Revival of Gold Standard." A reporter called to ask my reaction, assuming I would be greatly disappointed. But my response was the opposite. "I'm delighted," I said, "the news is that the gold standard was considered and the (temporary) rejection deserves a top front page headline by the Washington Post."

Paul's excitement wasn't due to the gold standard's being rejected; it was because he considered it amazing that a gold standard was being considered at all. Unfortunately, we didn't see a similar receptiveness to small-government ideas in the debate over Obamacare. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

From the onset, only one option was discussed and evaluated, that of a government-run healthcare system. The arguments of those in favor of it do not reflect the possibility of any alternatives. From Yahoo's Associated Content: "The United States is the only developed nation without universal health care coverage. … The cost of health care in the United States is also costing American jobs."

From YES! Magazine: "An estimated 50 million Americans lack medical insurance, and a similar and rapidly growing number are underinsured."

And finally, from The Huffington Post:

But why should anyone be forced to writhe in pain for fear of having to pay for a trip to the emergency room? Shouldn't we, as a society, make sure that when people are in pain, that they are able to seek treatment without the fear of eternal debt and foreclosure and anything else medicals bills of impressive size would cause?

Even if we assume that the statistics are accurate and the opinions are valid, what evidence have they provided that more government is the answer? Simply announcing that 50 million Americans are uninsured doesn't mean a government-run healthcare system is necessary, because it could have been our government's involvement that has led to the current situation.

As eager as the authors are to pronounce the healthcare system broken, there is precious little information explaining why. The authors may be operating on the assumption that it was a free-market system that created the healthcare problems, and we therefore need to turn to the government to save us. But what if healthcare wasn't a free industry to begin with? What if it was government involvement that created the mess in the first place?

This is why the law's proponents have to rely on their red herring: by deflecting attention from the question of "which method of delivery for healthcare would be the most efficient" to the declaration that "too many Americans don't have health insurance" they turn the debate into one over whether Americans should have access to healthcare. If someone, then, is opposed to Obamacare, they are automatically labeled as uncaring, cold, and heartless. And thus the attention is focused on the state of healthcare instead of various means to fix it.

Since Obamacare was brought to the forefront, it has been the only option debated. Understandably, the proponents of the bill are having difficulty producing valid reasons why the federal government should be more involved than it already is. Instead, they focus on the tragic statistics, hoping to steer the conversation from "who should run healthcare" to "do we need healthcare?"

Most of us who are opposed to the Obama administration's "universal healthcare" are not opposed to the idea that all Americans should be able to receive medical attention. Rather, we feel it unwise to jump at the first solution provided, especially when it's offered by the state.


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