Looking for Leadership in All the Wrong Places?

Dr. Benjamin Carson

Last week, I brought you a video from the National Prayer Breakfast speech of Dr. Benjamin Carson.  His words were heartening in many respects, and many in conservative media leaped at the notion of his political potential as a candidate.  I thought at the time that it was a bit of a fad, and I was therefore surprised to see Hannity run a full hour-long show on FoxNews devoted to talking with Dr. Carson.  (You can see the full video, here in parts 1 and 2.) I am glad Hannity had him on because my own caution seemed justified by something Dr. Carson said.  As I listened to him address the question of health insurance, it struck me as odd that he sees an inherent conflict of interests between an insurance company seeking to make a profit and its customers seeking health coverage.  When I hear such things said, I often dismiss them as the vapid utterances of mindless politicians, but since Dr. Carson has been receiving so much press, including on this site, it’s time to address the matter.  What Dr. Carson the practitioner of health-care seems to think about insurance is a common misconception, and it offers one more reason why conservatives must be cautious in their choices of leaders.

Dr. Carson said on Hannity’s show that there exists an inherent conflict of interests between health insurance companies and their insured clients.  This is not true.  The actual conflict begins a good deal sooner in the process, and as I think you will see, exposes a wider misunderstanding of the problem.  Ask yourself this:  Who are the majority of purchasers of health insurance?  If you said “individuals,” you’re wrong by a mile.  The truth is that the largest purchasers of health insurance are institutions, including the Federal and states’ governments, and corporations.  The problem here is that the people who consume the service are not the people directly paying for it.  Any time you break the connection between the end user and the provider of goods and services, you effectively destroy likewise the natural market signaling that provides feedback in both directions.

As an example, imagine you are a smoker looking for health insurance.  If you were approaching insurance companies directly, they would undoubtedly quote you a price many times higher than the one they propose to a non-smoker.  Obese?  Same thing.  This would mean that as a matter of natural market forces, you would either amend your behaviors and condition, or you would bear the burden of higher prices.  Insurers would naturally consider everything about you in determining what they would charge for a policy, but perhaps more importantly, you would be free to shop for insurance among many providers.  This would act as a restraint upon overcharging, and would also cause them to offer special discounts if you lived an exceedingly healthy lifestyle.  In short, personal responsibility would have a good deal to do with how much you pay for health insurance, as it should in a free market.  At the same time, a particular company’s profitability would hinge on making consumers happy with their coverages.

What many people ignore is that if one had to pay cash for the whole bill each time one became ill, or injured, most of us would go untreated indefinitely, because few of us have the resources to pay cash for extensive or invasive health-care procedures.  Dr. Carson talks a good deal about Health Savings Accounts, but such plans are more useful for mundane purposes of a less critical nature than their utility in life-threatening circumstances.  While I support Health Savings Accounts, I believe insurance is a necessary hedge against calamities.  If we change our focus from health-care insurance for ongoing maintenance, to a paradigm in which what we insure against are catastrophic circumstances, while letting things like HSAs pick up the slack for ordinary health maintenance, in a market environment, one would see the market begin to perform in a natural fashion.  Unfortunately, this means that people would need  to shop for insurance like they do any other commodity, and seek out the best deals on their ordinary health maintenance and preventative care, and most Americans have become far too complacent about such matters, expecting it all to be automatic.

The truth of the  matter is that if Americans want health-care to improve markedly in the United States, while restraining the growth in costs, without resorting to some sort of death-panel or other government-mandated rationing mechanism, there is a mechanism, however imperfect: The free market.  Unfortunately, since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, and even widespread employer-purchased health benefits(prompted by government wage and price controls,)  we haven’t had a free market for health-care in the United States, never mind health insurance.  The government is now the largest consumer of health-care services in the country as a direct payer, by many times over, and yet there is still an illusion held by many who receive health-care services paid for or otherwise subsidized through government payments that they are in control of their health-care.  They’re not.

If Dr. Carson’s criticism of corporate health insurance providers were true, then it must be even more thoroughly the case that no institution more than government would wish to avoid costs by denying care.  Do you need evidence? Consider Paul Krugman, longtime leftist economic propagandist and one-note statist, quoted as follows in a piece at Western Journalism:

“We’re going to need more revenue…it will require some sort of middle class taxes as well…And we’re also going to…have to make decisions about health care, not pay for health care that has no demonstrated medical benefits…death panels and sales taxes is how we do this.”  -Paul Krugman

What Krugman is saying is entirely true, but only if government becomes the source and payer for health-care, because otherwise, the free market would regulate prices in the same manner it does for virtually everything else.  Some will object, insisting that “health-care is different,” just as they have insisted that every other human need is different, from food to housing to education to Internet service to cellular phones.  All of these claims are equally wrong, and equally immoral.  These claims all begin by demanding that some basic human needs be met, and all of them end with a gun to tax-payers’ heads.  All of them.

I admire a number of positions taken by Dr. Carson, and I have no objections whatever about his participation in the public policy debate, but at some point, if he wishes to keep my attention, he will be required to offer more than platitudes and generalities about Health Savings Accounts.  He devoted several lines of rhetoric to the attack of ideologues, but I am always cautious when people attack broad sets of philosophically bound principles in vague terms. I am curious to hear more from Dr. Carson, but I hope there will be a good deal more specificity. Talk of presidential runs and other such notions are fanciful and premature at best, and while I’ve heard a number of truncated statements about various topics from Dr. Carson, what I’ve not heard is a guiding philosophy that informs his opinions. Absent that, I have no grounds upon which to base any opinion of his suitability to any office, much less his qualifications to be President of the United States, and I find it unseemly that Hannity and others would talk of Dr. Carson in presidential terms given that we know so little about his positions.  It may turn out that Dr. Carson is wonderful in all respects, but we already have a President who sailed into office through the propagation of vague, nice-sounding generalities, and I do not believe we can afford another.

Enough said about that.

Note: Mr. L also had some words to say on this subject.

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  • Vae Victus

    To many small government Americans are so hungry for a candidate or media celebrity who embrace their views that they often swallow whatever is fed to them without question. Even though they know the majority of the media is corrupt, they still let the media pick which candidates are electable and which ones are not, which ones are the “real” conservatives and which ones are the loons. It’s reminiscent of Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football.

    Hopefully Dr. Carson is a good Conservative but I am automatically cynical whenever the media starts to hype the new Conservative flavor of the month. All the “rising stars” in the past have turned out to be mealy mouth moderates pretending to be Conservatives. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio to name a few of the recent flavors. The vast majority of the talking heads that write books for Conservatives do not believe in the principles, they only seem to see a market that is ripe for the picking in Conservatives, IMHO.

    “I have distinguished in the past between somebody who “is conservative” and somebody who is “a conservative.

    By somebody who is “a conservative,” I’m referring to people like Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman, the totality of whose respect for those ideals is such as to say they are guided by them. But if you say of someone, “Well, he’s ‘conservative,’ ” by no means could it be said that he is guided by conservative lodestars. That would include President Eisenhower and President Bush.” – William F. Buckley Jr.

    http://m.townhall.com/columnists/billsteigerwald/2007/11/19/william_f_buckley_jr_on_conservatism_an_interview/page/full

  • the unit

    You got deep thinkers as to article respondents and posted comments, as always… and are trying figured it all out. I still stay simple minded as to the way I see it. Pay to play now pay to be played.

    As you say…”all of them end with a gun to tax-payers’ heads. ALL of them.” Somebody has to be a slave. Some part of society has to be a slave section. Section has to keep growing to meet demands. There’s something about stopping that in the old U.S. Constitution of yesteryear. Seems like just last week some actor was saying the purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to protect the institution of slavery. There is old saying… “Use it or lose it.” Pertains more to bodily good health functions (not sex as may be implied by left, but seeing about body “constitution” before heading off to school, so said Momma, good advice then and now)…but…doctor doesn’t have a pill to help me stand and do right from wrong. And as you say…”enough said about that.” P.S. I have learned prescribed Mobic keeps my ole thumb cock worthy and my index finger trigger capable, and old doc asks no questions. :)
    On thread, I guess, my folks gone now as to remembering…but new ’39 Ford, four door sedan was either 600 or 900 dollars, my emergency appendectomy was, well I don’t know, but five days in hospital, sterile by the way, and doc’s bill paid and I was up an attum. Didn’t break the family. Now I took two aspirin that night and met doctor at 7 in the morning. Could have passed of course, but happens. Wasn’t in the cards…think you gonna beat the rap? Time will tell. Time is on my side as to seeing or not seeing all the negative portends I read about it all, death panels and all. I try to stay rather upbeat. :) I be here when I be here!

  • Vae Victis

    I finally got around to listening to Mr. L’s commentary and was surprised at the similar thoughts we shared on this subject. That is why I am shocked to have received such a response from him over the problem I had with the article he cites and encourages people to go read titled “Attack of the Ivy League ***holes” at the National Review.

    Since this site’s article links to Mr. L’s Youtube video, I thought people should know how he treats people commenting there. Please keep in mind that you are very limited to the size of your posts on Youtube.

    My comment to him at Youtube is as follows:

    “I was enjoying your commentary and agreeing with everything you were saying until you got to James Madison and the War of 1812 while reading “The Attack of the Ivy League ***holes”.

    “and Madison (Princeton) started a disastrous war with Britain that saw the nation’s capital set on fire.”

    I suggest everyone research the cause of the war that is also known as the “second war of independence”. Also, James Madison that Ivy League ***hole is the Father of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

    To which Mr. L replied:

    “I didn’t say it. If you were paying attention, I was reading that from the article. The constitution had a lot of fathers.Also, you’re dick headed comment was removed. I don’t approve from assholes that I don’t know with profiles on youtube that are a day old cuz they wanted to comment to try & prove me wrong. Obvious you weren’t paying attention. Again, I didn’t right that article. And I also said, I didn’t agree w/ some of what he said. & yes Ivy League assholes ARE destroying the country.”

    I don’t know what Mr. L’s problems are but he certainly has two if this is how he in interacts with people over a disagreement of an article he didn’t write and his defensiveness of spreading misinformation about history. The only thing he has shown me is: he is an arrogant reactionary ***hole who exemplifies the rude New Yorker stereotype so very well.

    Needless to say, I will never back to his site. Obviously you are only allowed to sing his praises or you will be censored on his site.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/331042/attack-ivy-league-holes-fred-schwarz?pg=2

  • gacresred

    You and Mr. L are right on your cautions about Dr. Carson. I liked his speech, so I bought his recent book America The Beautiful and just finished reading it. After reading the book I don’t see him heading any conservative movement soon. I never saw the Hannity special, but after reading his book I am not surprised to hear Mr. L say that Dr. Carson would not say who he voted for for president. I am afraid I know what that means. In his book he gushed over what a great leader General Colin Powell was. He doesn’t gush over Obama but treats him very kindly in my opinion. He seems to think that both the entrenched left and the entrenched right are both bad and hope lies with educating the indepent middle with common sense. He mentions many black leaders and scholars he admires, but does not mention Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Allen West or others I would have expected him to mention. I don’t think this book will help him if it were to get a lot of exposure, as I’m sure it would if he decided to run for president.

  • melory2

    Glad to see I am not the only one who did not jump on that bandwagon!