Obamacare: what’s a few deaths here and there?

The perfectly named Michael B. Strain gets a WaPo op-ed with the headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” If The Onion had published it, we would have laughed. But the American Enterprise Institute scholar also writes:

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

Strain mentions speed laws on highways, as if the deaths resulting from choosing to drive 70 mph or more are is comparable to the thousands who go bankrupt because they can’t pay for healthcare. I thought the aim of the imperfect and maladroit Affordable Care Act was to ensure that Americans could some plan, from the lowest to the costliest — the ultimate victory for free enterprise, or American enterprise, as it were.

The reasonable part of Strain’s proposal looks like this:

The insurance system should be designed to financially protect people from low-probability events, rather than provide comprehensive coverage for all health events, as Obamacare envisions. People should be free to pay for whatever care they like, but the government should not take money out of their paychecks to subsidize small-scale events that will happen with near-certainty (such as my annual sinus infection) or truly elective procedures (some states choose to cover acupuncture and most cover chiropractic care under their interpretations of the law). Instead, universal coverage should concern itself with the catastrophic expenses associated with serious medical events that will affect a minority of the population. People who can afford such coverage should be incentivized to purchase it, and those who can’t should receive a government subsidy to do so.

Sounds charming. But any parent who’s endured constant urgent care center visits knows that “low probability events” don’t exist; for most children, illness of one kind is as high probability as dandruff.

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