Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Wag of my Finger

I know that Steven Colbert is a comedian and not a serious commentator/news figure, but there is one thing he does that really irritates me. If you have never seen the show, his thing is to pretend to be a conservative republican in an attempt to be funny. Most of the time he is successful, of course it is not hard to be a political comedian when George Bush is president. That's all well and good.

However, when he speaks of health care in this country, he refers to our "free market" system of health care. I don't often watch the show, but I have seen two episodes this past week and he did this both times. He then says something like "the free market can solve our health care crisis, it just hasn't done it yet." He then says something like "Capitalism is like Christian Science, only you replace God with money."

I know I am a stick in the mud, but I don't find that funny because it is so far from reality. We really don't have a true "free market" with respect to any industry in the United States, but this is particularly true with health care. As a matter of fact, health care is one of the most regulated industries in this country. The supply of doctors is regulated by labor unions and government licensure, and pharmaceuticals are heavily regulated by the FDA. Even insurance companies are heavily regulated. In fact, Ken Ulman's Healthy Howard health plan had to get special recognition from the State as to not be subject to health insurance regulations. If government regulation worked, health care should be the smoothest running industry in the world. It ain't.

If I go buy a car, I can buy a low end Kia, a high end Cadillac, or anything in between. Sure, there are government regulations for safety and how many miles per gallon these cars must get, but there is a high degree of flexibility I have with my purchase. With health care, the regulations are set such that everything is on the Cadillac end of the spectrum. This makes everything more expensive. To further complicate matters, many people believe that you should not have to pay for health care. They believe it should be free for everyone. I get the moral desirability of this, but the economics of this just doesn't work for health care any more than it works for cars. Yet our politicians are all to happy to pander to this mentality. If licensure actually worked, you should have to get a license to run for political office.

Sometimes Colbert has a segment on his show called "Tip of my hat, wag of my finger" where he bestows praise on someone and contrasts that with criticism of someone. I give a wag of my finger to Steve Colbert, for being a schmuck.