Reading the New York Times’s coverage of a Senate committee’s recent vote on health care legislation, I was struck by the following statement from Sen. Dodd:
If you don’t have health insurance, this bill is for you,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who presided over more than three weeks of grueling committee sessions. “It stops insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre‐existing conditions. It guarantees that you’ll be able to find an insurance plan that works for you, including a public health insurance option if you want it.”
The bill would also help people who have insurance, Mr. Dodd said, because “it eliminates annual and lifetime caps on coverage and ensures that your out‐of‐pocket costs will never exceed your ability to pay.”
A basic understanding of economics should tell you this can’t be right. The federal government and the insurance industry have limited resources; the demand for health care is potentially unlimited. Therefore, no conceivable legislation can ensure that the demand for health care will never exceed the resources available to pay for it. All legislation can do is to shift who controls the allocation of scarce health care dollars—in this case away from patients and insurance companies and toward the federal government. Reasonable people can disagree about whether that’s an improvement, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that any legislation could “eliminate” caps on coverage or “ensure” that health care wants will never outstrip our ability to pay for them.