Acton Institute Powerblog

Five Simple Arguments Against Government Healthcare

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The argument from federalism: One of the great benefits of federalism is that the states can act as the laboratories of democracy. If a new public policy is tried in the states and works (as happened with welfare reform in Michigan and Wisconsin), then a similar program has a good chance of succeeding at the national level. The welfare reform went national and proved to be one of the most successful public policy initiatives of the last half century. On the other hand, major governmental healthcare initiatives have been tried in Tennessee and Massachusetts. Neither of those have panned out. That should be a cautionary sign to avoid rushing ahead to just get a bill done!

The argument from misery: I cannot think of any encounter with my government that I willingly seek out. I hate going to the DMV. I hate going to the post office. I hate getting my car inspected. I hate getting a passport renewed. All of these things eat up productive time in my day and are filled with useless, inefficient waiting. This basic situation also applies to people who rely on the government for their healthcare. When my wife did indigent care in Houston, her clients did not pay for her services. They paid with their time. LOTS OF WAITING. I don’t need more waiting in my life. And because government employees are typically unionized, I don’t need to be at the mercy of a bunch of unionized employees any more than I already am.

The argument from incentivization: If the government provides the care too cheaply, then there will be a glut of clients who overwhelm the system and create the nightmare of waiting as the price to pay. If the government offers the care too expensively, people will opt out which is exactly what they wanted to avoid. If the government tries to control utilization by deciding what services you can and can’t have, then you are up against a far worse foe than the worst HMO you ever faced. And the government will go where the insurance companies fear to tread. They will decide who should live or die.

The argument from missing the verdammten point: It is exceedingly clear that a huge reason for the skyrocketing costs of medicine is the problem of predatory litigation driven by lawyers looking for 30-40% of a bloody fortune from an industry thought to be able to afford it. Between the cost of malpractice insurance, the payouts, and the defensive medicine that must be practiced to ward off lawsuits, it is easy to see why healthcare is outrageously expensive. Yet, the president very clearly said he would not seek to deal with that problem in the legislation. WHAT? WHY? Because the trial lawyers are very good political donors? Not a compelling reason for the formation of a particular public policy.

The argument from economic theory: Look at two sectors of the healthcare market that are typically paid out of pocket without the influence of insurance providers or the government. I am thinking of plastic surgery and lasik procedures for improving eyesight. Both of those services are becoming less expensive in real dollars rather than skyrocketing out of control. This happens to be the portion of the healthcare industry where actual market conditions apply. Customers pay for and receive value at a price that is becoming more reasonable all the time.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • Rob

    “They will decide who should live or die.”

    An private insurance companies don’t?

  • Dale

    no, the private insurance companies don’t… I see we’ve graduated from out right denying the death panel, to misdirection…


    The lies that come from the American right wing wackos are an insult to Canada and Canadian healthcare. Canada gets better healthcare for all citizens at lower cost than the meass that is private healthcare in the US. No the government doesn’t choose your doctor. No the government doesn’t decide your treatment. No there is not a committee to decide whether granny gets treatment or not. You have ultimate freedom to decide your treatment. It’s between you and your doctor. No one else. Wait times are improving significantly. The only problems occur when conservative governments try and undermine the system and promote private healthcare. They can’t stand to see somthing actually work well.

    Wake up America. Your right wing is your biggest threat.

  • S John

    here in britain the healtchare system works fine, i couldn’t imagine paying for medical in a million years. and the second paragraph here is completely void A)because the systems mentioned are, in the end, there to protect the public and keep the efficiency of country’s communication and services, and B) the ‘timewasting’ that universal healthcare will supposedly cause is no worse than the many inconveniences caused by insurance company red tape. the argument shown here seems gives the impression that the american government is completely divorced from its citizens and is attempting to turn america into a communist dictatorship at every opportunity, but it shouldn’t be that way – good healthcare is a privilege; a luxury that comes with the success of the country, and the if it comes from the government it will only make treatment more secure and accessible. It seems the only real reason here to reject the healthcare reform is fear of government takeover.

  • joy

    Britain and Canada don’t have 30 million illegals to pay for. Some of us make money in America and dont want to give 3/4 of it to the government. We like to do what we want with it, like give it to a charity that ACTUALLY helps paople who have GENUINE needs.

  • kevin

    joy is right, those other countries don’t have the massive number of illegal immigrants first of all. and second, where do people of the world go when they want the best treatment… Canada?, britain?, NO they come to the united states because the privatization of the healthcare system gives incentives to the healthcare facilities and physicians to be the best.

  • Jenn

    Do people with genuine needs not include those with broken arms or in need of a hip replacement? Who do you classify as people having genuine needs?

  • Benj

    I don’t think you realize that illegals don’t get healthcare services. You have to be a citizen of the country and have a health card to get treatment. I have two friends with serious medical conditions that received excellent treatment from specialists here in Canada at the time they needed it most, and i’m happy to have my taxes pay for this system so that my friends and neighbours can be healthy without going bankrupt.