The Ghoulish World of Government-Controlled Healthcare

A dear friend wondered aloud on his Facebook page recently why so many of us are upset by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on the constitutionality of most of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), including the individual mandate.  I don’t have the heart to respond.  I suppose our political worlds are just too far apart. 

Political disagreement doesn’t bother me in any philosophic or personal sense.  It is in the nature of our existence as humans that we’re going to disagree about what makes life good, and about morality in general, and about the forms of government to which we ascent.  I truly do understand that. 

On the other hand, we citizens of the United States have a form of federal government that is already in place.  We can argue and debate many things, but one thing seems clear to me and it seems so clear as to be beyond debate:  the only way the Founders were able to get sovereign states to sign on to the compact known as the US Constitution was by guaranteeing that their sovereignty and the rights of their particular people would be respected.  So, while I’m not upset that people disagree about government and its purposes, I’m terribly distraught and at this point quite frightened and somewhat disillusioned that so many fail to understand the context, purpose, and intent of the Constitution.  But even worse:  I’m startled and disturbed by the manner in which the Constitution is ignored or misrepresented by most of those in the federal halls of power–now including the Supreme Court.  They appear to think that the mere passage of time has invalidated the limits placed upon the federal government.

As is well known at this point, it was the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts that brought victory for the individual mandate since the court was otherwise split on the matter.  It now appears that in the Court’s deliberations, Roberts originally found the mandate to be unconstitutional.  He agreed on this matter with Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, and Scalia.  But when they insisted that the unconstitutional mandate required the striking of the entire law, Roberts switched sides and upheld it in order to preserve the law itself.  According to the online Insurance Journal, he did this because of “a traditional Supreme Court principle that if the justices can find any constitutional grounds on which to uphold a law, they should do so.”

On that slim argument the Chief Justice of the United States gave the upper hand to an overreaching Congress and President against the liberties of the nation’s citizens.

Finding a reason to preserve a challenged law that has come before it is, constitutionally speaking and without a shade of doubt, NOT the job of the Supreme Court.  The job of that court is to judge the constitutionality of the law before it.  Or, as the Supreme Court said in its decision, “whether the Constitution grants Congress the powers it now asserts.”  One wonders how it can genuinely fulfill this self-stated responsibility while simultaneously attempting to uphold the matter being judged.  Would this qualify as schizophrenic jurisprudence?

If you find my argument less than convincing, imagine how such a lack of objectivity would function in any other court in the land.  Imagine if a judge or jury, supposedly disinterested and unbiased in order to guarantee a fair trial, were to decide that their job is to find a way to put you in jail no matter what the facts are.  See my point?

Whatever happens next with regard to Obamacare, so-called progressives will not rest until the United States has a centralized single-payer system administered by the federal government.  That was the goal of the Affordable Care Act and it remains the purpose toward which its implementation is moving us.  Federal regulations on insurers, limitations on insurance contracts and provisions, and even changes to the military insurance program (TRICARE) are designed with this end in sight.

Here are a few things we can look forward to if Obamacare if not overturned and if we continue moving toward a single-payer system as we are doing now.  My predictions aren’t the product of gazing into a crystal ball, but come simply from studying the record of government involvement in other issues of our lives, and from looking at similar programs in other welfare nations.

First, the goal is that private insurance and private medical arrangments–even if paid for by one’s own personal funds–will be illegal, and will result in severe penalties.  Waiting times will increase dramatically and the wealthy among us will simply go to other countries for the medical procedures they need.  The United States will no longer be the country where the wealthy of other countries come for surgery unless they are able to take advantage of my second prediction.

What is my second prediction?  That’s easy:  our elected officials will have access to better and quicker healthcare than the constituents they supposedly represent.  You can count on that.  No matter what happens, they’ll see that they get the best for themselves and their loved ones.  That’s one of the perks to being among the political elite.

Third, the entire plan will cost far more than anyone has even begun to suggest.  The process to realizing this has already begun. 

Fourth, in an attempt to control costs, the federal government is going to insist on massive new intrusions into our personal lives.  By federal law, our health records are already being maintained electronically.  And progressives in some states and cities are already putting intrusive food-related measures into place.  We can expect all sorts of new regulations and limitations on any substances considered unhealthy:  alcohol, edible fats, salt, types of carbohydrates, sizes of food containers, and an eventual absolute ban on tobacco.

I can easily imagine that, under a nationalized healthcare system, we’ll be forced to undergo certain medical tests to ensure that we are complying with the law.  Simple blood tests will be the espionage system that gives the truth of our activities to the government (in other words, our bodies will be tattling on us to government representatives who will then take the necessary measures to punish us through taxation or worse).  I can already imagine the conversations between doctors and patients. 

Doctor:  “Mr. Smith, I thought you told me you quit smoking six months ago.  Your blood test says otherwise.”

Patient:  “Well, doc, I tried.  I stopped for a week or two but the habit was too strong.  I went back to smoking … but hey, I was able to cut back to only half a pack a day.”

Doctor:  “Nonetheless, you realize that the law requires me to report this fact to the national health agency.  Otherwise I’ll lose my medical license.”

Patient:  “No, wait … please, doc, I can’t afford another increase in my taxes … they’re getting outrageous.  Ever since my cholesterol went up and you told the feds about it my health-related government fees are eating me alive.  My family and I are looking to sell our house and get a smaller one just so we have more money to send the government for cover our lifestyle fees.”

(By the way, if the part about downsizing a home in order to have more money to give to government sounds ridiculous, then you need to take note of the rising number of retired elderly people who are selling their homes because they can’t afford the property taxes.)

For now the part about government “lifestyle fees” is just a horror story.  But before now who would have thought that the highest court in the land would say that it’s ok for the feds to force us to buy something under penalty of law?  Justice Roberts says it’s just a tax.  I feel better already.  After all, we have massive taxation on cigarettes.  Let’s tax the heck out of butter, whole milk, and cooking oils.  While we’re at it we can impose a targeted federal tax on all fried foods and all caffeinated beverages the same as we’re targeting a federal tax already on tanning salons.  All of this stuff is just not good for you. 

I guess there is no need to worry about this anytime soon.  When the economy collapses we’ll all be getting skinny one way or the other.  I note that the latest reports from Europe state that unemployment in EU nations is higher than it’s ever been before and the entire continent is racing toward recession.  There’s nothing to worry about, I’m sure–except that our federal government seems to be emulating EU economic, financial, and regulatory policies.  I’m sure economic collapse will never happen here.  After all, our Constitution and our Supreme Court will protect the liberties that would prevent such a thing in this country.

How many of us still believe that fairy tale?

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9 thoughts on “The Ghoulish World of Government-Controlled Healthcare

  1. John,

    I am surprised that you did not agree with Roberts’ appeal to the principle that “if the justices can find any constitutional grounds on which to uphold a law, they should do so.” I would think that a libertarian, who is always afraid of the government overreaching, would want a court whose members are not elected (but rather appointed for life, but not directly by the citizens) to interfere as little as possible with the actions of elected officials. After all, your elected representatives are directly responsible to the voters; the members of the court (by design, as you know) are not. Of course, in those cases where elected officials have obviously overstepped their circumscribed powers, it is the role of the courts to say so. In this case, however, it is clearly true that Congress has the right to impose taxes. Further, it is plausible that the penalty in question is a tax (I won’t rehearse those arguments here). Therefore, I would have thought that you would have agreed with the reasoning of the Court. That doesn’t mean that you have to like the law, of course; but in this case the Court stayed out of the way of interfering with the will of the people – surely a result that you want. Or to put it another way, the court refrained from making healthcare policy. And since you are so against courts “legislating policy from the bench” (so to speak), again, I would have thought you would be happy with the legal reasoning.

    Further, I do not think that this is a case of – as you put it – schizophrenic jurisprudence. You asked us to “Imagine if a judge or jury, supposedly disinterested and unbiased in order to guarantee a fair trial, were to decide that their job is to find a way to put you in jail no matter what the facts are.” The analogy is bad: what we should be imagining is a judge or jury trying to find you *innocent*. The principle to which Roberts appealed says, roughly, that the court should interfere as little as possible; likewise the analogy here should be that a court should presume innocence, not guilt. (And in fact that’s exactly what we have.)

    Finally, I disagree with the first of your predictions. In fact, I have no idea how you dreamt it up, because I’ve never heard anything to support that claim. You say: “the goal is that private insurance and private medical arrangments [sic]–even if paid for by one’s own personal funds–will be illegal, and will result in severe penalties.” But no one has ever said anything like that. The dream of universal health care for all is just that: the idea that everyone will have access to some minimal standard of care. Indeed, that idea is enshrined in the UN declaration of human rights and is supported by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. But nothing within the idea that everyone should have access to minimal standard of care entails that you will not be allowed to spend additional money of your own on your healthcare. I would actually love to know how you arrived at that conclusion.

    Now, lest you think that I have no ear at all for your concerns, I share some of your worries. You already know that I agree with you that New York’s attempt to ban sugary drinks is absurd. Further, you write: “progressives in some states and cities are already putting intrusive food-related measures into place. We can expect all sorts of new regulations and limitations on any substances considered unhealthy: alcohol, edible fats, salt, types of carbohydrates, sizes of food containers, and an eventual absolute ban on tobacco.” Yes, I agree those are legitimate worries. (It is worth noting, by the way, that these restrictions are being put in place by (your cherished) state governments – NOT the federal government. Which means that, in a certain sense, that this isn’t even a constitutional issue!)

    I do think that such things are unreasonable intrusions into our lives. But I think other things are not. So, for example, I think it is reasonable to require that everyone be vaccinated. Why? Because it’s a matter of public health, and people who don’t get vaccinated put me at risk.

    In short, my point is that the issue of just how far government regulation can extend is a thorny one, and it is not easily settled by vague appeals to constitutional authority, as you seem to think it is.

    I do wish that you had replied to my post on Facebook. I was hoping that you would. In the comment thread, I patiently explained why I do not understand the fact that people characterize this ruling as an intrusion upon liberty. I still do not understand, and I warmly welcome any insight you might offer.

    • Hi Chris,

      I do not speak for John, but I will express my belief that this is an infringement on my liberty. I am being forced to pay for something I do not want to pay for. Even if the stated goal of such force is good, this does not make the use of force ethically valid.

      Suppose I broke into your home and held you at gunpoint. I take, say, 20% of everything you own. Upon leaving your house with the booty, you call the cops. Upon finding me they demand to know where I put your stuff. I reply “Hey! No worries. I’m not keeping it for my own, selfish motives. I gave all Chris’s stuff away to the poor, who needed it.”

      Does this justify my thievery? Even if I had a good end in mind, I cannot use unjust means to attain it. (A very Christian concept!) Now, this is basically what the Healthcare mandate does (as do all forms of welfare). I am taxed (forced) to pay for someone else’s good (those who can’t afford healthcare). (Kant, while not as radical as I, was still a classical Liberal because of arguments like this. His maxim: “Do not treat anyone as a means to your own end” is apt in this situation, since those who are taxed are used as a means to the end of supplying us all with healthcare– hence why Mises and Hayek were Kantians.)

      Now, several kinds of replies could be used here. The most standard being: “Well, welfare was Voted on! It was Democracy at work!” (Ignore, for the moment, that most welfare in this country was never voted on, but largely passed without much input from the American people, and ignore further that America was meant to be a “democratic republic” and NOT a democracy as is absurdly claimed by many in the mainstream.) Still, does this really validate thievery? If you, John and I got together and voted on which of us got 20% of your wealth and John and I voted together, would that validate our taking your stuff?

      Anyway, it’s a long issue that I don’t think can be settled in a blog or facebook thread. But there’s a good place to start.

      • Matt, thanks very much for your reply. However, it does not work for the simple reason that I don’t have a choice in how Congress spends any of the government’s money. Suppose that I don’t want to pay for a new fighter jet – or I don’t want to pay to have the White House lawns manicured. Whatever. On your theory, it would follow that I am being robbed. But that’s absurd.

        Also, you have Kant wrong. He does not say that you should not treat anyone as a means to your own ends. What he says, rather, is that you should not treat others as *mere* means. We treat others as means to our ends all the time – as when I use a cashier to buy things from the store. But, as the cashier is willingly there doing that job, I am not treating him or her as a mere means, without regard to her will at all.

      • Chris is certainly correct in his comment that he has no choice on how the government spends money it has taken from us all. Seems he might be starting to have some definite libertarian leanings, because those of us who love liberty would say that his very insight is a justification for smaller, less intrusive, less expensive government!

      • Matt, your comments are terrific. I am reminded of a quotation that I’ve been told comes to us from Ben Franklin, but I’m not 100% sure of it:

        “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb debating what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

      • Thanks to both you guys! |

        Chris: That’s my point! You have no power over how Congress spends your money! That is evil!

        Further, your counterexample to my Kantian example proves my point: the Cashier is VOLUNTARILY helping you out! Whereas we are FORCED to pay for healthcare. So I think my point stands. (Though thanks for the nuance about Kant.)

  2. by the way, I would like to add that,as I learn more and more about the ACA,I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is a pretty terrible law. Constitutional? I think so. Good? Almost certainly not.

  3. Another great post, John! However, I do have one bit of criticism.

    I agree with most of your predictions, except this first one. I do not think the wealthy will be harmed by this legislation, nor will private health insurance ever be made illegal.

    I make this claim because the new health-care bill is “fascist” (that is, National Socialist) and not “Socialist” (in the Marxist sense.) That must sound highly pedantic! But I promise there is a difference.

    A good article might be this one:

    http://mises.org/daily/3793

    I highly recommend you read Dr. Dilorenzo’s article above. It will help you and your readership understanding the true problems with Obamacare.

    • Thank you, Matt. The article is excellent–and I highly recommend to my blog readers that they avail themselves of the wisdom that can be had from the Von Mises Institute!

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