Be Healthy or Else!
By Yaron Brook and Don Watkins (Riverside Business Press, October 22, 2007)
As part of his universal healthcare proposal, John Edwards would make doctor visits and other forms of preventive care mandatory. In a similar proposal in England, a Tory panel suggested that Britons should be forced to adopt a government-prescribed "healthy lifestyle." Britons who "cooperate" by quitting smoking or losing weight would receive Health Miles that could be used to purchase vegetables or gym memberships; those who don't would be denied certain medical treatments.
These paternalistic proposals are offered as solutions to the spiraling costs that plague our respective healthcare systems. It is unrealistic, states the Tory report, for British citizens "to expect that the state will underwrite the health implications of any lifestyle decision they choose to make."
But any proposal that expands the government's power to control our lives--to dictate to us when to go to the doctor or how many helpings of veggies we must eat--cannot be a solution to anything. Instead of debating what coercive measures we should be taking to lower "social costs," we should be questioning the healthcare systems that make our lifestyles other people's business in the first place.
Both the American and British systems, despite their differences, are fundamentally collectivist: they exist on the premise that the individual's health is not his own responsibility, but "society's." Both Britain's outright socialized medicine and America's semi-socialized blend of Medicare, Medicaid, and government-controlled, employer-sponsored health plans aim to relieve the individual of the burden of paying for his own healthcare by coercively imposing those costs on his neighbors.
When the government introduces force into the healthcare system to relieve the individual of responsibility for his own health, it is inevitably led to progressively expand its control over that system and every citizen's life.
For example, in a system in which medical care is "free" or artificially inexpensive, with someone else paying for one's healthcare, medical costs spiral out of control because individuals are encouraged to demand medical services without having to consider their real costs. When "society" foots the bill for one's health, it also encourages the unhealthy lifestyles of the short-range mentalities who don't care to think beyond the next plate of French fries. The astronomical tab that results from all of this causes collectivist politicians to condemn various easy targets (e.g., doctors, insurance companies, smokers, the obese) for taking too much of the "people's money," and then to enact a host of coercive measures to control expenses: price controls on medical services, cuts to medical benefits--or, as with the current proposals, attempts to reduce demand for medical services by forcing a "healthy lifestyle" on individuals.
Properly, your healthcare decisions and expenditures are not anyone's business but your own--any more than how much you spend on food, cars, or movies is. But under collectivized healthcare, every Twinkie you eat, doctor's visit you cancel, or lab test you wish to have run, becomes other people's right to question, regulate, and prohibit--because they are paying for it. When "society" collectively bears the costs of healthcare, the government will inevitably seek to dictate every detail of medical care and, ultimately, every detail of how you live your life.
To protect our health and our freedom, we must reject collectivized healthcare, and put an end to a system that forces us to pay for other people's medical care. We must remove government from the system and demand a free market in medicine--one in which the government's only role is to protect the individual rights of doctors, patients, hospitals, and insurance companies to deal with one another voluntarily, and where each person is responsible for his own healthcare.
Let's not allow the land of the free and the home of the brave to become a nation of dependents looking to the nanny-state to take care of us and following passively its dictates as to how we should live our lives.
Yaron Brook is the president of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. Don Watkins is a writer and research coordinator at ARI. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.