February 18, 2010 10:02AM

Mandating Coverage of Pre‐​Existing Conditions = Price Controls

Kevin Williamson’s article “Priceless Is Worthless” from the December 21 issue of National Review sat on my nightstand for two months. When I finally read it, I was glad I hadn’t pitched it. It was like someone had taken Friedrich Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society” and made it accessible and entertaining:

For the Soviets, there were no real prices, so there was no feedback loop between producers and consumers: If we’d had that model for soft drinks, we’d still be drinking New Coke, and the cola executives in Atlanta would be strutting around in their nifty military uniforms, with epaulets and braid, telling us to drink our New Coke and like it, because they had determined, RATIONALLY, that this is what we want. A good rule of thumb: Fear the man who says he will make things rational by ignoring reality–and ignoring prices is ignoring reality.

Williamson warms my libertarian heart when he exposes laws requiring insurers to cover pre‐​existing medical conditions as price controls:

You’d never take a bet that you knew you were going to lose, right? Insurance companies won’t do that, either, unless they get paid to do so–specifically, unless they are allowed to charge at least as much for covering Preexisting Condition X as it’s going to cost them to treat Preexisting Condition X. Ignoring the reality of prices–waving the magic wand and saying: “There shall be no price put on preexisting conditions”–does not solve the problem. Health care costs money. The price is right, and you cannot politically engineer your way out of that reality, no matter how many sickly toddlers you parade around on CNN.

Free‐​market health care reforms would take a great leap forward if all conservatives and libertarians would just start calling such laws what they are: price controls.