Archives: 03/2009

More Praise for Cochrane’s ‘Health-Status Insurance’

This time, it’s coming from Reihan Salam at Forbes.com:

Choice and Security: Professor John Cochrane’s advice to President Obama

Last week, at a White House forum on reforming health care, President Obama issued a challenge to advocates of less government control of the medical marketplace.

“If there is a way of getting this done [i.e., reforming health care] where we’re driving down costs and people are getting health insurance at an affordable rate and have choice of doctor, have flexibility in terms of their plans, and we could do that entirely through the market, I’d be happy to do it that way.”

More to the point, Obama added that he’d be just as happy to pursue an approach that involved more government control as well, and that seems to be the tack he’s taking…

Congressional Republicans have criticized Obama’s approach, and they’ve been particularly hostile to the idea of a new public insurance plan. They argue that Obama’s reforms will eventually lead to a nationalized health care system. But as of yet they’ve failed to offer an alternative that meets Obama’s criteria for a successful health care reform.

Enter John Cochrane, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Professor Cochrane has long advocated a proposal he calls “health-status insurance,” an approach that could guarantee long-term health security while also freeing medical insurers to compete for customers. To most health care reformers, this sounds like a contradiction in terms.

Cochrane’s paper is, “Health-Status Insurance: How Markets Can Provide Health Security.”

New Podcast: ‘El Salvador’s Choice’

El Salvador is becoming an economic success story in Central America, says Cato scholar Juan Carlos Hidalgo.

Since 1992, the country has undertaken an aggressive program of liberalization that has transformed its economy and yielded major improvements in various socioeconomic areas. In a new study, Hidalgo explains how El Salvador “is showing the rest of the region how economic freedom can pave the way for development and how globalization offers great opportunities for developing countries that are willing to implement a coherent set of mutually supportive market reforms.”

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, Hidalgo explains how despite recent economic reforms, next week’s election in El Salvador could end with a  government that has great admiration for the policies of Hugo Chavez that would turn El Salvador away from market-based reforms.

A third of the [voting] population is under thirty. So that means many young voters don’t remember El Salvador as it was during the early 1990’s… Young people have trouble paying for their cell phone bills, have trouble paying their gas bills and have trouble paying for tuition in colleges. What they don’t remember is fifteen years ago they didn’t have cars, their parents didn’t have cars, their parents didn’t have any cell phones and their parents lived in shanty towns….

…Even though they talk about emulating the socialist revolution in Venezuela, they haven’t been explicit about dismantling democratic institutions in El Salvador.

Events This Week at Cato

Thursday, March 12

Climate of Extremes

12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)

climateBOOK FORUM: Cato senior fellow in environmental studies Patrick J. Michaels will discuss his new book, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know with David Legates, Delaware state climatologist and director of the Delaware Environmental Observing System.

The book illustrates the crucial unreported news about climate change: that changes in hurricanes will be small, that global warming is likely to be modest, and that contrary to daily headlines, there is no apocalypse on the horizon.

Free registration for this event is now open, and it will be simulcast live on Cato’s Web site.

Transportation Reauthorization: Looking Beyond the Recession

1:30 PM (Refreshments Provided)

CAPITOL HILL BRIEFING: Randal O’Toole, Cato senior fellow and author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, will join Robert Poole, director of Transportation Studies at the Reason Foundation for a discussion on transportation reform during the recession.

Register here for this free event.

Friday, March 13

Can the Pentagon Be Fixed?

12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)

Most defense analysts agree: the Pentagon is in serious need of reform. Acquisition programs run above cost and behind schedule. The U.S. defense budget is higher than at any point during the Cold War, but capability has not kept pace. We field fewer ships, aircraft, and tanks than we did in the days of lower procurement spending. And our defense spending prepares us better for the conventional wars we imagine than the unconventional conflicts we fight.

Featuring Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information; Colonel Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army (Retired), Straus Military Reform Project adviser; Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight; Thomas Ricks, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and special military correspondent for the Washington Post; and Benjamin Friedman, research fellow in defense and homeland security at the Cato Institute.

Please register for this free event or  watch live online.

Schism in the Church of Universal Coverage

On the Diane Rehm Show last week, I predicted that all the lovey-dovey coalition-forming by the Church of Universal Coverage would fall apart as soon as people started talking about actual reforms instead of vague principles.

Today, The New York Times reports:

Two labor unions have pulled out of a broad coalition seeking agreement on major changes in the health care system.

The action, by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, shows the seeds of discord behind the optimistic talk at a White House conference on health care this week.

It also illustrates the difficulty of reaching agreement on two of the knottiest issues in the health care debate: whether to offer a new government-sponsored insurance option, and whether to require employers to help pay for employee health benefits.

I made a similar prediction in this op-ed, where I urged that a new government-sponsored insurance option and mandates are two of three proposals that must be blocked at all costs. The third: price controls.

“Fascinating ‘Outside-of-the-Box’ Thinking on Health Insurance Reform”

At Reason Online, Ronald Bailey reviews John Cochrane’s recent Cato Policy Analysis, “Health-Status Insurance: How Markets Can Provide Health Security.”

Writing in advance of last week’s health care summit held by President Obama, Bailey explains:

Summit attendees will break into various working groups that are supposed to engage in “outside-of-the-box” thinking. As it happens, they now have some fascinating “outside-of-the-box” thinking on health insurance reform to draw on. Earlier this month, University of Chicago economist John Cochrane published an intriguing policy analysis for the libertarian Cato Institute that looked at how “health-status insurance” can provide health security for Americans. Cochrane claims that with health-status insurance, free markets can solve the vexing problem of how to insure people with pre-existing medical conditions and “provide life-long, portable health security, while enhancing consumer choice and competition.”…

Creating and selling separate health-status insurance policies would mean that medical insurance companies would no longer have an incentive to offload sick people. Instead, because those with pre-existing conditions would have the funds to pay higher premiums, insurers would compete for their business. “Constant competition for every consumer will have the same dramatic effects on cost, quality, and innovation in health care as it does in every other industry,” argues Cochrane.

Health-status insurance also helps delink medical insurance from employment because…a worker diagnosed with diabetes…can switch jobs without worrying about whether or not he can obtain medical insurance…

While Cochrane acknowledges that his proposal is not a comprehensive health care reform program, adopting it would go a long way toward satisfying President Obama’s eight health care reform principles, especially affordability, aiming toward universality, portability, and choice, and being fiscally sustainable. “Health-status insurance can simultaneously give us complete and portable long-term insurance, great individual choice, and cost-containment beyond the dreams of any health policy planner,” concludes Cochrane. Asked if he has been invited to the president’s health care reform summit this week, Cochrane said no, but quickly added, “If I got the phone call, I would definitely be there.” Mr. President, there’s still time for your summiteers to hear about this outside-of-the-box thinking.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s a weekend round-up of bloggers who are writing about Cato:

  • The editors at Fiscons.com quote Alan Reynolds in a post about President Obama’s spending plans.
  • Peking University Professor Michael Pettis quotes Daniel J. Ikenson on his blog, which covers trade policy in China. The quote was pulled from Ikenson’s latest op-ed in the South China Morning Post.
  • Fr33 Agents blogger Morgan Ashcom cites Gene Healy’s Examiner op-ed that criticizes conservative foreign policy.

Let us know if you’re blogging about Cato by emailing cmoody [at] cato [dot] org (subject: blogging about Cato) or drop us a line on Twitter @catoinstitute.

Hillary’s Shock Doctrine

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state who no doubt thinks of herself as “fourth in the line of succession,” tells a European audience how the Obama administration will pass an agenda that Americans have previously rejected: “Never waste a good crisis … Don’t waste it when it can have a very positive impact on climate change and energy security.”

As I’ve written several times, governments throughout the decades have taken advantage of wars and economic crises to expand their size, scope, and power. Bob Higgs wrote about “Crisis and Leviathan” long before Naomi Klein called it “The Shock Doctrine.”

But the striking thing about the Obama administration is that they openly acknowledge that’s what they’re doing – using a crisis to ram through their entire policy agenda while people are in a state of panic. Projects like national health insurance, raising the price of energy, and subsidizing more schooling – the three prongs of President Obama’s speech to Congress – have nothing to do with solving the current economic crisis. But the administration is trying to push them all through as “stimulus” measures. And they keep proclaiming their strategy.

First it was Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Then Joe Biden: “Opportunity presents itself in the middle of a crisis.”  Not to mention Paul Krugman and Arianna Huffington. And now Hillary.

Not since George Bush the elder told the media that his campaign theme was “Message: I care” has a president been so open about his political strategy. But these people are displaying a contempt for the voters. They’re telling us that we’re so dumb, we’ll go along with a sweeping agenda of economic and social change because we’re in a state of shock. They may be right.

But voters and members of Congress should remember Bill Niskanen’s sobering analysis of previous laws passed in a panic.