"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Is a Mandate?

A good fight is always fun to watch, particularly if it is only political blood that is being spilled, and it is flowing freely in the Democratic free-for-all in the context of health care reform. Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are united in their policy preferences for "reforms" that inexorably will lead to a single-payer system of health care insurance and to all of the perversities attendant upon it. Anyway, one way to reduce the taxpayer cost---not the true economic cost---of such a system is to force those who otherwise would find health insurance not worth its cost to buy it anyway. They would pay more than the benefits they receive, and so would subsidize others.

Such an "individual mandate" for all is part of the Clinton and Edwards proposals, and for children in the Obama plan. So: How would the government enforce this requirement? Edwards is quite clear: He would require proof of insurance with the annual filing of income-tax returns, and in the absence of such documentation the IRS would automatically enroll the scofflaws in a plan. And if the freeloaders refuse to pay the premiums? Wages will be garnished! The IRS becomes ever friendlier!

Hillary, after having blasted Obama for not having a mandate, and thus not "covering" everyone, finally has been forced to admit, sort of, that a mandate is meaningless without enforcement, and that she too might consider garnishment of wages and the like. Obama, more honest than the other two---not an exacting challenge---has not responded with a proposal for expanded coercion, and indeed has not explained even how the mandate for kids is to be enforced.

So let us be very clear: Mandates will be hard to enforce, and so the cost estimates in the respective plans---for this reason and host of others---will come a cropper. Which illustrates an eternal truth: Government planning cannot work, never has worked, and always yields unexpected effects less than salutary. Will our crack journalists covering this issue understand any of this? Not a safe bet. Not at all.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

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