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ObamaCare: Insurers Need Permission to Survive; Citizens, to Live

Under arbitrarily powerful government, by the grace of Congress go I.

by
Paul Hsieh

Bio

April 25, 2010 - 12:01 am

Suppose our government declared that everyone had the “right” to a nice steak dinner. The government would require restaurants to sell $50 steak dinners to all comers. But to keep prices affordable, restaurants could only charge $25. No restaurant could survive long under such a scheme, and most Americans would be outraged at such a blatant violation of restaurant owners’ rights.

But that is exactly what is happening with health insurance in Massachusetts. Events unfolding now in the Bay State should serve as a warning to the rest of America of the danger ObamaCare poses to our health insurance, our health care — and ultimately our lives.

Since 2006, Massachusetts residents have lived under a system of “universal health care” similar to the recently passed ObamaCare plan. Insurers must cover patients regardless of pre-existing conditions. In return, individuals are required to purchase state-approved insurance. These mandatory policies include numerous benefits which many consumers may neither need nor want — such as in vitro fertilization and chiropractor services — but were included through the lobbying power of special interest groups.

Naturally, these mandated benefits raise the costs of insurance. However, insurers are not allowed to set prices based on market conditions, but must instead petition the state for rate increases.

Recently, the Massachusetts state insurance commissioner rejected 235 of 274 requested rate increases.

Insurers filed suit against the state, arguing that without these rate increases they would be forced to sell their services at a loss. The state then “delisted” the complaining insurers from the government-run exchange where residents purchase plans. Under government pressure, at least two insurers then agreed to resume sales under the old prices.

Insurance companies in Massachusetts are thus required to offer numerous benefits as determined by politicians and lobbyists, but they may only charge what government bureaucrats permit. It would be akin to the government requiring restaurants to sell $50 steak dinners, but only allowing them to charge $25.

When similar price controls and “guaranteed coverage” laws were imposed in South Dakota and Kentucky, many insurers left these states rather than be slowly bled to death. As similar laws are phased in nationally under ObamaCare, the government could drive private insurers out of business altogether, enabling it to herd unwilling Americans into a “public option.”

ObamaCare thus places a noose around insurers’ necks. Insurance companies will be allowed to survive only at the arbitrary pleasure of the government.

We’ve already caught a glimpse of how the federal government will exercise this arbitrary power. After ObamaCare was signed into law, some insurers pointed out that the law didn’t require them to immediately cover certain children with pre-existing conditions. In response, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius threatened to issue regulations forcing them to do so regardless of the actual letter of the law.

Nor will the government confine this exercise of arbitrary power to insurance companies. The government will also seek to control what medical care patients may receive. As Ed Morrissey noted, ObamaCare supporters now praise the fact that it will help the government deny treatments to patients after earlier deriding Americans’ concerns about rationing and “death panels” as unjustified “paranoia.”

The trend is becoming clear. First, insurers must seek government permission to survive. Then, patients must seek permission to receive some forms of medical care. Will we soon need government permission simply to live?

The fundamental problem is that our politicians no longer believe in the Founders’ concept of a constitutionally limited government. Instead, they believe that the government’s job is to “control the people.”

As Ayn Rand once wrote, under a properly limited government:

[A] private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.

Furthermore, a proper government should be limited to the function of protecting individual rights. Only physical force or fraud can violate our rights. The government thus protects our rights by protecting us from criminals who steal, murder, rape, etc., as well as from foreign aggressors. Otherwise, it should leave honest people alone to live peacefully. In particular, it should not force Americans to seek permission before engaging in mutually voluntary business transactions such as purchasing health insurance or medical services.

Rand also warned:

[W]e are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.

America is closer to that point than ever before. But we are not there yet. We can still reclaim our country if we are willing to fight back in the realm of ideas and in the realm of politics.

In the realm of ideas, we must advocate and defend the principle of properly limited government to our fellow Americans through articles, books, blog posts, e-mails, speeches, town hall meetings, tea party protests, etc.

In the realm of politics, we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions — especially those who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, then betrayed that oath by brazenly declaring that they’ll pass whatever laws they want without “worrying about the Constitution.” We must exercise our constitutional power as voters to fire those politicians who would exert arbitrary power over us, and replace them with men and women who respect the proper limits of government.

George Washington once warned that government, like fire, “is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

Will our government be our servant — or our master? The choice will be ours.

Paul Hsieh, MD, is a member of the Colorado chapter of Docs4PatientCare (www.Docs4PatientCare.org) and co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (www.WeStandFIRM.org).
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