Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Gambling with healthcare is betting one’s life

Josh Kellogg/Collegian

During the Tea Party Republican debate last week on CNN, Ron Paul made a stir with an answer he gave to Wolf Blitzer about a man without insurance who needed medical treatment that he would not be able to afford. After being asked whether a 30-year old man who did not buy health insurance, thinking he was healthy enough not to need it should be turned away from the hospital, Ron Paul answered that the man should have been responsible and bought a major medical policy, following that with assurance that charity would help those that were in need without any need for a government-program. Of course, many were not happy with this, but when we look at the morality of the situation it is clear that Ron Paul’s advocacy of responsibility is sound.


The man in the question was someone who had consciously chosen to not buy health insurance and instead allocate his limited income towards the acquisition of other goods. As all do when planning for the future, he took a risk by expecting not to have to make a large healthcare expenditure in the future. However, it turned out that he was wrong and is now facing expenditures that he did not plan for.

Mistakes of this type happen all the time in society with other goods like home-owners’ insurance. All the time people choose to take risks, betting on certain outcomes in the future. If they work out, no one really pays attention, but if they fail they can bring on all sorts of unfortunate consequences. However, whenever someone’s basement gets flooded and he cannot afford to get it repaired, people do not forget that it was that person’s free decision not to protect himself against such events. Rather than saying it is unfair that he is left with a flooded basement, the unfortunate homeowner is told that he should have been responsible and bought insurance. It is strange then how when it is the man about to die due to his own negligence that the stark necessity of responsibility is forgotten in favor for a mess of an argument.

In the topsy-turvy world of analyzing one of the worse-case scenarios of healthcare, the virtue of responsibility is forgotten and instead doctors become the serfs of those who could not be bothered to take care for themselves. Rather than starting with the all-important premise that each person is the ultimate preserver of their life and that it is their moral obligation to pursue their own well-being, those angered by Ron Paul’s statement start with the premise that it would be murder to do anything other than care for the man. For one thing, this leaves out the important distinction between letting someone die and killing them, and the uncomfortable questions that result from that.

By far, though, the most awful conclusion that can be derived from that premise is that it results in the medical profession being turned into slaves at the beckoning of the sick. This is so because if doctors murder each and every near-death person that they do not attend to, then the doctor is no longer a free individual. Rather, he becomes a serf who is not free to practice his profession as he wants. Instead of deciding which patients he will seek, he has to treat whomever someone else decides is worthy for his attention; otherwise, if he abstained from treating that patient, it would be like he was committing murder. Is the doctor a slave to the will of others or is he responsible for his own actions? If he is responsible for his own actions, then he is free to throw out the man? If he is not free to throw out the man, then for all intents and purposes the doctor is the man’s slave. Since the entire concept that a person’s will could be controlled by another is absurd, it follows that we must accept the former over the latter and uphold the doctor’s right not to provide care to the man.

Overall, Ron Paul is correct in placing the blame of the man’s situation on his own actions for the simple fact that he did not take the actions that were clearly open for him to prevent such a scenario. He bet his life and lost. Furthermore, to make it compulsory for doctors to treat him would be an assault upon their moral freedom and would result in a repugnant situation where patients enslave their doctors.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • B

    Brad LeeDec 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

    You are starting with a flawed argument– that the government needs to collect taxes first and then figure out how to spend that money later. If they start with the assumption that each person is responsible for making their own life decisions (which don’t involve reaching into their neighbor’s pocket to cover medical procedures) then there is no reason to collect that tax in the first place.

    Taxing for something like roads– where everyone benefits in some way from their existence, and the project scope is beyond the abilities of any private entity– is far different from telling me I’m responsible for John Q Public’s heart bypass because he decided to eat high fat foods and not exercise. Being opposed to a medical tax in no way equates to anarchist tendencies.

    There is a whole other topic you’re glossing over: Which lives get saved? Throwing every dollar available to try to save every sick person’s life will break the system in very short order. Considering the average person’s impact on society as a whole, I think a very strong argument could be made that the best way to use taxes has nothing to do with personal medical procedures (medical research is a different topic).

  • J

    JamesSep 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    So let me get this straight: Taxing people – which is required in order for the government to be able to do ANYTHING – is equivalent to “making slaves and serfs out of the rest of society”?

    Then you are arguing for NO GOVERNMENT AT ALL. I just want to make that clear, because you’re using euphemisms like “the free market way”, when in reality you are saying that the United States of America should cease to exist.

    My point is simple: As long as government exists at all, there will be taxes. As long as there are taxes, the best way to use them is to save people’s lives.

  • B

    Brad LinzySep 22, 2011 at 10:41 pm


    In that case, you are making slaves and serfs of the rest of society who are now forced by law to pay tribute to the social program they may, in fact, want to opt out of.

    Sure, if government is going to do anything socialistic at all, helping the poor is preferable to “peacekeeping” missions and overseas “operations”, aka unconstitutional wars.

    But on a base philosophical level, you’re still missing the plot here. What we’re saying is, there is another way that hasn’t been allowed to work, and that’s the free market way. We’ve had some form of government intervention since the late 1800s.

    Here is a good article for continued reading:

  • J

    JamesSep 22, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The idea that giving health care to someone who did not buy insurance is equivalent to making doctors “serfs” or “slaves at the beckoning of the sick” is utterly insane. We’re not talking about forcing doctors to work for free. We are talking about paying for the treatment of someone who could not afford that treatment on their own. How does this have anything to do with the doctors? They’re not involved in the issue at all. They get paid the same either way, the only difference is whether the money comes from the patient or from the government.

    And on what grounds can you object to the government paying money to save a man’s life? If you’re an anarchist and want to get rid of government completely, then – and ONLY then – could your argument make any sense. Otherwise, if we are to use taxpayer money for anything at all, surely saving people’s lives has to be at the top of the list.

  • B

    Brad LinzySep 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    This is a great discussion of a very difficult and important topic…

    Personal responsibility means no bailouts when you screw up. One has to be understanding that for every action there is a consequence, or a series of potential consequences, each with their own probability and risk. If, as some have point out, the free market was truly at work in healthcare, costs would be considerably lower, therefore, so would risk. The risk of racking up an insurmountably large medical bill would be minimized. The perceived “need” to rely on insurance, either private or public, would disappear under an affordable, free market system.

    Consider automotive repair… If we need our car fixed, we take it to a mechanic who has not had to be licensed by the state. We can shop around for the cheapest parts and labor and get a good deal on the repair. This is arguably no less skilled a profession than a family doctor, who performs a very similar function of diagnosis and treatment with the human body as the mechanic does with the machine. But the mechanic gets paid far less. Why? Lack of licensing, lack of government intervention and the presence of free market principles at work.

    Charity, for it to still be defined as “charity” and not “slavery”, a bailout of hard times must be provided by someone willing to provide the bailout on a strictly volunteer basis, without expectation that NOT doing so is akin to some kind of crime. For some, it may well be a “crime” in the spiritual sense to turn away from someone in need of a second chance, but man’s law could not consider it so, for the effect would be, as has been pointed out, an even greater crime of slavery.

    So, we have this decision to make as a country… We can continue down the road to less responsibility for ourselves and less free market leading to lower costs and better service through competition, or we can turn back and begin to trust in a free market system again. An up or down decision has to be made! You cannot continue to have 90% free market and 10% socialism and controls. The 10% will always undermine the effectiveness of the other 90%. This is why I don’t support compromise on these issues. The “compromise” of letting the other side have any say in the matter is what destroys the entire system for everyone. To make an analogy, I could mix together a solution of 90% health drink and 10% cyanide, or even 98% health drink and 2% cyanide. Not much cyanide in the solution, but it will still kill me if I drink it! Such is the effect of government intrusion into the realm of healthcare…and everything else, for that matter!

  • B

    Brad LinzySep 22, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Good article. This is a discussion that needs to happen nationally, and without a load of political scare tactics. But that won’t happen. The health industry is bigger than probably any other sector besides energy.

    The real problems in the system are third party payers. Whether private or public, third party payers are the root cause in the rise in healthcare costs. No one ever spends someone else’s money with the same frugality they spend their own. Anyone on a private insurance plan who is past his/her deductible loses all incentive to be frugal with their healthcare. They will not shop around for best prices. Who does that today? No one! But we do it with everything else we buy… Why not healthcare procedures? Why should I not be expected as a consumer to call around and find the best price on a heart bypass surgery if I need one?

    The reason I’m not expected to and the reason it’s not common practice is because the free market of John Smith is not at work here. What is at work is another quasi-governmental bureaucracy brought about by licensing and mandates and other government interventions in health.

    The ideal system would be one where insurance companies played only a limited role in insuring for catastrophic health problems, or prolonged issues, and no way should government be involved anywhere along the transaction! We would walk into a doctor’s office, get diagnosed with a problem. If it needed further testing or procedure, the doctor explains what he wants to do about it and hand us a printout explaining how much he will charge for each itemized thing. Then we can decide to use his services or shop around for a better price on each of the things listed. If we choose to shop around, we should be able to call up a nearby hospital or facility and find out their pricing on every procedure or test they perform. (You cannot get such a price list from ANY hospital today! In fact, in many cases, they will charge vastly different amounts for the same thing depending on who is paying!)

    The doctors will not be practicing by virtue of a license, but by economic forces that say they are in business because they do good work and because the patient is, once again, responsible for finding out the physician’s credentials for himself.

    Under the current system, doctors perform every little test and order every little drug because they don’t want to be sued in the unlikely event the thing they didn’t try turned out to be the problem and, God forbid, something bad happen to the patient. This is no way to conduct a system where bad things are bound to happen whether the doctor is at fault or not. The sharks and leeches in the system can be seen all the time on TV advertising medical malpractice representation. That is not to say that it’s not sometimes justified and necessary to sue for malpractice, but there needs to be a standard. The patients need to be informed their rights and responsibilities with regard to their own healthcare, and this needs to be the NORM! They need to be, where possible, involved in their own treatment, not just speechless bystanders in the process, content to let someone else handle it.

    The problem is, the system is designed with the average joe moron in mind, and we all are getting screwed as a result.

  • P

    PatriotSep 22, 2011 at 2:14 am

    You nailed it. In reality, the man would not be left to die. Although we do have fewer charity hospitals and most have been sucked up into hospital conglomerates that are more concerned with the bottom line than patient care. Southern CA lost 300 charity hospitals in about a five year span after the influx of illegal immigrants whom they were required by the federal government to treat. They were promised reimbursement, most of which did not materialize. What did come through was far short of the costs of care. The hospitals went under.

    Doctors are already serfs to insurance companies. We have seen the deterioration because, at lower reimbursement rates, doctors have to cram in more patients to make a living. I know a couple of doctors who have left the profession because they could not practice good medicine under the dictates of the insurers (same ones who wrote Obamacare). I have heard quite a few doctors planning to leave medicine before Obamacare kicks into fuller gear in 2014.

    When the government is not providing charity, churches and civic groups step up to the plate. This was the case for well over a hundred years in our country and phased out over time as the government’s involvement (interference?) grew. Even today, we often see family, friends, neighbors and communities raise funds for those in need of expensive care.

    One of the things I love about Ron Paul is that he tells the truth, no matter how unpopular or hard to take it may be. I’ll take an ugly truth over pretty lies any day.

    Ron Paul is the Change We Wanted.

  • U

    USS ConstitutionSep 22, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Really the issue goes beyond responsibility. Ron Paul is right about responsibility, but the bigger issue is why are the costs so high to begin with.

    In a free market, prices generally go down, not counting inflation. So why then has the cost of healthcare gone up so much? Especially when so many technological advances have occurred?

    Any industry is forced by the free markets to provide services and products at a price people can afford. If they don’t, they don’t have customers, and they don’t have a business.

    The best way to take care of the majority of the healthcare problems is to return it to a free market, so that the majority of people can afford it out right. In doing so, you reduce the people in need of insurances and such, because more people will be able to afford it.

    With the remainder of the population who honestly can’t afford it, then organizations do exist to help them, and it’s not just churches. It is easier for these organizations to handle the resulting problems because 1. There is less demand for them due to more people being able to afford the healthcare, and 2. The costs are much lower, so the resources they do have and generate will be able to go further.

    Yes people need to be responsible for themselves. However, we have to provide them an environment where they are able to be responsible for themselves first. And that can’t happen as long as government bureaucracy keeps allowing distorting the free market. These programs actually go towards deregulating the free market.

    Also, it’s doubtful the man would have died in the example, most likely he would be billed. I’ve been there, done that; although not to the degree of the example.