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POLICY: The Industry Veteran on Don Johnson and the conservative interpretation of reality

Cover the uninsured week continues (mostly by chance here at THCB), as I don’t hold much hope in changing anyone’s mind in our current political impasse and imbecility. You might want to check out the huge number of comments to yesterday’s post — particularly one from Don Johnson that veers close to Lord of the Flies territory in terms of "you’re poor, sick and stupid?  Well you should have got educated and gotten rich". However, I don’t really have the stomach to tear into the conservatives on this issue any more.  They’re at once morally wrong, economically illogical, and seem to have mythical interpretations of the facts. On the other hand, The Industry Veteran does have the stomach for it:

Your colloquy with Don Johnson reminds us that for conservatives, the chimera of the market is an article of religious faith.  Never mind that what they call a
market lacks many of the necessary elements required for labeling some activity
a market. As long as their perfervid perceptual grid can label a phenomenon as
non-government and afford someone the opportunity to make a pile of dough,
conservatives will slap the sacrosanct market label on it.  Now if substantial
government activity, such as buying, selling and deciding who else can
participate proves necessary to the existence of this putative market, that
doesn’t bother these Thomist marketers.  Whatever they deign as a market is
virtue, the rest is sin.

If logical rigor has nothing to do with what
they call a market, and if they remain untroubled by the fact that US health
care possesses the shortcomings of markets and non-markets, it is only fair to
ask what is the sine qua non whose presence calls forth the blessed
appellation of "market" upon some shabby activity. I maintain that for America’s
medievally fixated conservatives, profit-making is this indispensable quality.
If the system in question is one that most observers might call communism,
organized crime or government-managed capitalism, that matters not a fig to Mr.
Johnson and his erstwhile colleagues at the Wall Street Journal‘s
editorial page.  Henrik Hertzberg recently referred to the Journal as
the church newsletter of the non-evangelical right wing and Mr. Johnson is at
least a deacon in that deranged parish. Profit-making provides their road to
eternal salvation.

Now profit-making is the caloric of this pre-modern
thought process.  It is an ethereal fluid whose presence and quantity can be
judged only by the enlightened clergy. This means if friends of Mr. Johnson and
his fellow seers judge that profits in some system flow to people who lack their
favor (e.g., commissars or made men) while remaining beyond the reach of people
in whom Johnson sees the divine light (e.g., Pfizer, Amgen or Medco), then the
activity loses its market designation.  Even if the divinely inspired Pfizer and
Amgen possess many of the same compelling powers as the netherworld government,
their presence hallows the activity into market status.

As people with a
religiously closed mind, Johnson and his compatriots are beyond the reach of
rational argument.  Evidence and logic cannot persuade them.  They transvalue
values to make good into evil, sin into virtue.  Quite frankly, I don’t think
they justify the time or effort required to rebut their nonsense.

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17 replies »

  1. //ordinary Americans have $250,000 HSA balances//
    I’d be interested in your definition of ordinary here. I think the Canadians would be disgusted at how an upper middle class is being carved out of the exploitation and poaching of the majority (lower middle class and poor) of U.S. citizens.
    //The US isn’t going to the single payer system and Canada will switch away from it because it is too expensive, sorry//
    And the Fundamentalist Right wonders why that line at Hell’s door is getting longer…

  2. Gadfly,
    Good luck, you are pretty much alone gadfly. No politicians in either party say such such a thing except Kucinish (SP?) and he got no votes.
    The US isn’t going to the single payer system and Canada will switch away from it because it is too expensive, sorry.
    Canadians are going to feel really bad in the future when ordinary Americans have $250,000 HSA balances and all Canadians collectively have a ZERO balance. Those Canadians snowbirds in Florida could use an HSA because try and get payment from the Canadian government, impossible. A little HSA option for all Canadians couldn’t hurt could it?

  3. //Gadfly you just want group employee insurance to insure people when they are healthy enough to work 30 hours per week.//
    Nope. I want universal insurance.

  4. Abby,
    I think Canadians need the freedom to go tax free just like Americans. It’s being reported today that Florida state employees are getting the HSA option, so that’s nice. Thank you Gov Jeb who said, “Floridians will be wise with their Tax-Free HSA funds.”
    I’m just thinking with all of our experience in getting Tax Free HSAs in the American economy we could help the Canadians with important reforms that elevate the choices for them, without much debate, much like we did here in America. Politics is a funny game. It will drive you crazy.

  5. Ron,
    Why do you feel so strongly about forcing HSAs on the Canadians? Most Canadians are reasonably happy with their system. Why do you feel the need to tell them how to live?

  6. No gadfly, John Kerry’s plan was not universal.
    Surplus dead bodies huh?
    Gadfly you just want group employee insurance to insure people when they are healthy enough to work 30 hours per week. When they get sick or hurt and can’t work, you think they should be switched to individual insurance to pay all their medical expenses after a short COBRA.
    I say group health employee plans should be required to keep their sick and hurt clients and quit dropping them onto the backs of the tax payers. We should all just agree that we should hold all insurance companies feet to the fire and pay the bill’s of their citizen clients without COBRA’s termination of benefits. It’s the only fair thing to do.
    Insurance that terminates because you get sick is really good, right Sue? Without you warning your clients that they will lose their coverage is a serious ethics violation because you need full and proper disclosure. Usually employees talk to some non licensed HR employee who is not bound by ethics, it’s sad. The group health salesman is playing golf so he let’s HR people do his dirty work. Unlicensed fruitcakes selling insurance to uninformed employees without full and proper discloser, it’s a crime.

  7. //The rich can afford $9,000 but many times the poor can’t.//
    Okay, I admit to confusion here. Was the Kerry plan a universal plan? That would mean that the $9000 for the poor would come out of general taxes. Of course, that means it’s coming out of someone else’s pocket – but if $9000 is the cost, that’s the cost. Cutting people off to make the price go down to $150 for health care for *some* people just makes the price go up in other areas like welfare services and garbage collection for those surplus dead bodies.
    //our insurance company reported that 43% of HSA enrollees were previously uninsured.//
    Blogging to drum up business, are we?

  8. Gadfly,
    John Kerry said, “I have an idea to drop health insurance 10% or $1,000 a year per family.”
    The rich can afford $9,000 but many times the poor can’t.
    $9,000 a year is $750 a month. Some families can’t afford John Kerry’s expensive health insurance but can afford President Bush’s low cost HSA health insurance which only cost’s $150 a month for a young family in Lansing, Kalamazoo or Des Moines.
    That’s why our insurance company reported that 43% of HSA enrollees were previously uninsured. It has been reported in the media, this last week, that the first million HSAs have been enrolled. So that’s a nice start. You know what they say, “The first million is the hardest.”
    Wish us luck. You have probably guessed by now that the Tax Free HSA is a cornerstone of President Bush’s Ownership Society.

  9. //John Kerry wanted health coverage to cost $9,000 a year per family.//
    //President Bush supports low cost HSA insurance that only costs $150 a month for a family (MI example).//
    Does the Kerry plan cost $9000.00 because the people who can afford the $9000 are covering those who can’t?
    I do have a heart, and it’s all about making sure people are able to get the basic necessities of life, including health care. I’m not interested in saving wealthier people $8500 in order to deprive the poor. Whether the $9000 amount is necessary remains to be seen.
    It’s not the duty of the poor to uphold the lifestyle of the middle class.

  10. gadfly,
    John Kerry wanted health coverage to cost $9,000 a year per family.
    In contrast
    President Bush supports low cost HSA insurance that only costs $150 a month for a family (MI example).
    Why do liberals want health insurance to cost so much gadfly?
    Currently, it is illegal for an employer to purchase the low cost individual health insurance on a Ramen noodle eating employee so they go uninsured.
    Liberals just make low cost insurance illegal to help Blue Cross. I assume you support this liberal cause because you bash President Bush trying to get low cost HSA insurance available to poor Americans.
    Have a heart gadfly.

  11. //suggest that American citizens should not save for retirement//
    To me, the issue is more whether most people are able to save for retirement. If they don’t have the means, then bemoaning the fate of “personal responsibility” all day isn’t going to help.
    Let’s say a person earns $6-$9 an hour in a service job. Most of their money will be going toward basic cost of living. They may also have extra debt payments (besides rent, car, school loans, etc.) from months where they couldn’t cover the costs. This person might internalize the personal responsibility rhetoric enough to save for their retirement, even though they aren’t going to be able to save enough for their investment to generate a living income in retirement (and they base money would only last a few years). But let’s say they do take the personal responsibility to act *as if* their savings would be able to support retirement.
    Then, when these people lose their poorly paying service jobs, they have to use the savings that were supposedly for their retirement to get by. If they have to tap this money, they have to pay early withdrawal penalties that may be higher than the interest ever earned. Not to mention the bank or the private investment firms charge a variety of fees that chip away at accounts that are too small to be worth their while. These people would have been better off putting their money in regular savings accounts rather than “retirement products”.
    So here we have the working poor, living on Ramen Noodles but putting aside say $200/month toward retirement savings. Society should be appreciating their good character and effort. But no. Instead society has moved on to rebuking them for not saving for health care. The Bush mandate is to make them feel guilty about their three boxes of Ramen a day, so they give up one box in favor of paying out for insurance (which in my understanding has to be purchased along with the HSA). At least the money won’t be completely thrown away because this person will either be starving or suffering from who knows what disease from a steady diet of Ramen.
    Do conservatives want to scold me for expecting the money for health care to come out of other people’s pockets? Be my guest. Those other people who are extracting a comfortable standard of living by exploiting the large reserve of low paid labor (most of whom have skills that could be paid more if they weren’t degraded by the way the labor market works). You bet your booties in the moral scheme of things, the people who banefit from the market should at least be pitching in for the health care of the people who are upholding their standard of living.

  12. You are correct John P.,
    HSAs are a tool to help fix our health care system.
    We need HSAs in Medicare as an option too.
    HSAs are the Ultimate Panacea, welcome aboard.
    Hopefully we will be able to bring down Medicare in Canada and start marketing HSAs up North too.

  13. Don:
    I’m on the other side of the fence from you on most of this debate, but I still want to stop to let you know that I think the Industry Veteran went a little overboard this time.
    To be fair, you have been saying all along that you think some form of limited regulation is necessary.
    I’m also not sure that this talk about evangelicals and capitalists does anybody any good.
    But then we Democrats have been obsessed with the religious right for a long, long time.

  14. Ron:
    I get the feeling that for you HSAs are an intensely political and personal topic, a little bit like the Civil Rights Movement or Gun Control for some people!
    Elevating something like a personal account to that level may in the end prove to be a mistake, I suspect.
    The healthcare system has an awful lot of problems.
    Any way you look at it, HSAs are a tool to fix them. Not a solution.

  15. It would be nice if “Industry Veteran” would use his/her real name so we can see who we’re debating, and who is flaming whom.
    What’s so ironic is that he/she says conservtives are locked in their ideology when it’s the left that hasn’t come up with a creative idea in the 30 years I’ve been writing about health care economics and markets. The primary reason is that they are under the mistaken impression that the tax status of a provider or insurer matters. If you don’t understand markets, regulations and politics, it’s pretty hard to get your arms around the health care issues, as the advocates of universal health care so clearly demonstrate.
    The problem with this debate, so far, is that it’s assumed that I am against regulations and government involvement in the markets. That’s not true. I believe regulations and government payers should have a role, as they do in any market I can think of, but I think the idea that there should be some kind of universal health care system that assumes one size fits all or a few is unworkable and naive.
    I’ll respond on my blog over the weekend.

  16. The centerpiece of President Bush’s health care reform is Health Savings Accounts (HSA). HSAs are the first account with tax free deposits, growth and withdrawals. Money that is never taxed will last longer in retirement. HSA funds are dedicated to retirement health care expenses.
    Some suggest that American citizens should not save for retirement health care expenses because the federal Medicare program will take care of all your medical, vision and dental costs in retirement, this is simply not true. If you pay extra for the RX benefit in Medicare your Out-Of-Pocket (OOP) on drugs alone is $3,600 for a single and $7,200 annually for a couple.
    The President discusses tax free HSAs in every speech for the last several years. I call him the Energiser Bunny. The President usually says, “Become empowered with a tax free HSA.” Governor Jeb Bush said, “Floridians will use their HSA balances wisely.” Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has on his home page the person he says is the first HSA in America, Pam W.” I first learned of tax free HSAs is 1993 by Economist and Texas Senator Phil Gramm.
    Senator Gramm said, “Liberals shy away from the tax free HSA like vampires to the cross.”

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