Can America institute universal health care coverage without hurting our innovative spirit?
It is a fascinating question – courtesy of a libertarian perspective.
Our nation has an enviable record of innovation from creation of the telephone to space exploration and medical advances.
We also have a shameful record on health care, with tens of millions without insurance, many of them children.
But mention government-run universal health care, and libertarians – champions of free markets and small government – cry foul.
Their arguments are familiar: Government is fundamentally inefficient. Individuals are better at making decisions about their lives than are government bureaucrats.
A less prominent argument is that such a program would hurt innovation.
America’s creative spirit results from limited government, including low taxes and few regulations, according to John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank in San Francisco.
So increasing government, with a federally-run health care program for all Americans, would be bad.
“Limited government is the important thing. When you make citizens dependent on the government for the basics of life, it’s tough,” he told me.
The concept is known as the “nanny state,” where dependence on government supposedly stifles our creative juices and will to work.
In many ways, we already have a nanny state, with Social Security, Medicare and the U.S. Postal Service. Yet, that has not kept us from being the world’s top innovators.
Then again, we have far less government control than Canada, France or England. And we are more creative and competitive than them.
Are the popular government-run health care programs in those countries stifling their innovation? Maybe.
For America, Graham proposes a plan that differs from Democratic and Republican congressional initiatives.
He suggests government simply give money to Americans so we can go out and buy our own health insurance.
For example, a family would receive about $12,000 to purchase coverage, whether the parents have a job or not.
Government also would force insurers to renew coverage regardless of illness or pre-existing health problems.
“Give me that money and I’ll buy a health plan, and I’m responsible,” he said.
All this to protect our precious sense of innovation.
But what if this proposal fails to provide all Americans with good health care? Should we then sacrifice some innovation for the sake of universal coverage, like in other countries?
The trade-off may be worth it.