Surrendering the Argument on Health Care

A new Rasmussen poll shows that a third-party presidential candidate promising universal health care coverage would run virtually even with a Republican candidate and ahead of a Democrat. This is the latest sign of dissatisfaction with our current health care system.

But it also shows what happens when we abandon principles and co-opt the arguments from the left. From Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s individual mandate to President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit, many Republicans and conservatives appear to have conceded to the idea that expanded—indeed universal—coverage should be the goal of health insurance policy.

Very seldom do you see anyone making the case that government-run health care will inevitably lead to rationing and the denial of care. Even less do you see anyone, outside of Cato, arguing that we must shift the health care debate away from its single-minded focus on expanding coverage to the bigger question of how to reduce costs and improve quality through greater consumer control.

Given a choice between national health care and national health care “lite,” it’s not surprising that a great many people favor the real thing. We are not going to win this argument unless we a) make a clear case against more government involvement in health care, and b) offer a clear consumer-based alternative.