Op-ed column: Obama’s health care proposal threatens free enterprise

A New York Times article from October 1993 described the legal victory of one small pharmacy in Arka

A New York Times article from October 1993 described the legal victory of one small pharmacy in Arkansas that sued the corporate behemoth Wal-Mart for selling merchandise below cost. According to the article, many states have antitrust laws that forbid this practice if “for the purposes of injuring competitors and destroying competition.”

There is no doubt that the health care costs in the United States are high and that health insurance is an unaffordable luxury for 46 million Americans. But President Obama’s proposed health care solution, that is, introducing a public health insurance plan regulated at the federal level to compete with private insurers, doesn’t seem quite legit. The president’s plan would reduce the cost of health insurance for consumers, but at a significant cost to free enterprise.

Imagine Sam Walton standing in front of the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee stating, “If you are happy with your local businesses, then you don’t need to buy your goods at Wal-Marts.”

True, but American consumers aren’t stupid and will go with the cheapest or most convenient option. Wal-Mart is acutely aware of consumer economics and knows that its lower prices will draw in the majority of the market.

Same principle

Is there a difference, then, between this fictitious example and the rhetoric the president is using to sell his new idea to the public and to organizations like the American Medical Association? “If you like what you’ve got, we’re not going to make you change.” Although the actual prices for this public option have not been revealed, it has been implied that they will be less expensive; therefore, smart Americans will, and should, look to this option.

Will competitors be “injured” if this plan is passed? Probably. The federal government will draw the majority of the market, because consumers aren’t stupid. If the option is cheaper and offers similar coverage, then it is the best economic decision for the public.

The unethical, and dare it be said un-American, part of this option is the public subsidy, which gives government the deliberate unfair advantage over any other option. More egregious is that this subsidy will be from American tax dollars: from the taxes private insurance companies will be paying the government. Essentially, the government will be taking over the health insurance market at the expense, literally the tax dollars, of private enterprise.

Though the president is not creating this public alternative to purposely destroy competition, it is a known and undesired consequence. His rhetoric is very tongue-in-cheek.

Uneasy picture

Furthermore, this type of pitch from the president could be used to sell a public fuel option (“buy gas at the government’s gas station”) or a public banking system (“open an account at the government’s bank”). Because the government’s coffers are so large, what private market couldn’t it enter?

This proposal is not malicious; the health and well-being of all Americans is at the core. But is this the picture of America: of free enterprise and protected liberties?

Thankfully, the conversation is started and we can all hope that a best solution by our elected officials and civic-minded Americans is on the horizon. More importantly, though, we can hope that the solution embodies the prized values of America.

Jonathan J. Markowicz lives in Niskayuna. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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