FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Column: Don’t blame Heritage for ObamaCare mandate By Stuart Butler

Milton Friedman on Medical Care (Full Lecture)

Published on Feb 2, 2014

I have written about Obamacare over and over again on this blog. Dan Mitchell has shared many funny cartoons about Obamacare too. Milton Friedman has spoken out about government healthcare many times in the past and his film series FREE TO CHOOSE is on You Tube and I encourage you to watch it. It is clear that the federal government debt is growing so much that it is endangering us because if things keep going like they are now we will not have any money left for the national defense because we are so far in debt as a nation.

We have been spending so much on our welfare state through food stamps and other programs that I am worrying that many of our citizens are becoming more dependent on government and in many cases they are losing their incentive to work hard because of the welfare trap the government has put in place. Other nations in Europe have gone down this road and we see what mess this has gotten them in. People really are losing their faith in big government and they want more liberty back. It seems to me we have to get back to the founding  principles that made our country great.  We also need to realize that a big government will encourage waste and corruption. Also raising taxes on the job creators is a very bad idea too. The Laffer Curve clearly demonstrates that when the tax rates are raised many individuals will move their investments to places where they will not get taxed as much.

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “The Anatomy of a Crisis” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, and – Power of the Market.

Milton Friedman – Health Care Reform (1992) pt 1/4

Milton Friedman – Health Care Reform (1992) pt 2/4

Column: Don’t blame Heritage for ObamaCare mandate

Is the individual mandate at the heart of “ObamaCare” a conservative idea? Is it constitutional? And was it invented at The Heritage Foundation? In a word, no.

The U.S. Supreme Court will put the middle issue to rest. The answers to the first and last can come from me. After all, I headed Heritage’s health work for 30 years. And make no mistake: Heritage and I actively oppose the individual mandate, including in an amicus brief filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, the myth persists. ObamaCare “adopts the ‘individual mandate’ concept from the conservative Heritage Foundation,” Jonathan Alter wrote recently inThe Washington Post. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews makes the same claim, asserting that Republican support of a mandate “has its roots in a proposal by the conservative Heritage Foundation.” Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have made similar claims.

The confusion arises from the fact that 20 years ago, I held the view that as a technical matter, some form of requirement to purchase insurance was needed in a near-universal insurance market to avoid massive instability through “adverse selection” (insurers avoiding bad risks and healthy people declining coverage). At that time, President Clinton was proposing a universal health care plan, and Heritage and I devised a viable alternative.

My view was shared at the time by many conservative experts, including American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholars, as well as most non-conservative analysts. Even libertarian-conservative icon Milton Friedman, in a 1991 Wall Street Journal article, advocated replacing Medicare and Medicaid “with a requirement that everyU.S. family unit have a major medical insurance policy.”

My idea was hardly new. Heritage did not invent the individual mandate.

But the version of the health insurance mandate Heritage and I supported in the 1990s had three critical features. First, it was not primarily intended to push people to obtain protection for their own good, but to protect others. Like auto damage liability insurance required in most states, our requirement focused on “catastrophic” costs — so hospitals and taxpayers would not have to foot the bill for the expensive illness or accident of someone who did not buy insurance.

Second, we sought to induce people to buy coverage primarily through the carrot of a generous health credit or voucher, financed in part by a fundamental reform of the tax treatment of health coverage, rather than by a stick.

And third, in the legislation we helped craft that ultimately became a preferred alternative to ClintonCare, the “mandate” was actually the loss of certain tax breaks for those not choosing to buy coverage, not a legal requirement.

So why the change in this position in the past 20 years?

First, health research and advances in economic analysis have convinced people like me that an insurance mandate isn’t needed to achieve stable, near-universal coverage. For example, the new field of behavioral economics taught me that default auto-enrollment in employer or nonemployer insurance plans can lead many people to buy coverage without a requirement.

Also, advances in “risk adjustment” tools are improving the stability of voluntary insurance. And Heritage-funded research on federal employees’ coverage — which has no mandate — caused me to conclude we had made a mistake in the 1990s. That’s why we believe that President Obama and others are dead wrong about the need for a mandate.

Additionally, the meaning of the individual mandate we are said to have “invented” has changed over time. Today it means the government makes people buy comprehensive benefits for their own good, rather than our original emphasis on protecting society from the heavy medical costs of free riders.

Moreover, I agree with my legal colleagues at Heritage that today’s version of a mandate exceeds the constitutional powers granted to the federal government. Forcing those Americans not in the insurance market to purchase comprehensive insurance for themselves goes beyond even the most expansive precedents of the courts.

And there’s another thing. Changing one’s mind about the best policy to pursue — but not one’s principles — is part of being a researcher at a major think tank such as Heritage or the Brookings Institution. Serious professional analysts actually take part in a continuous bipartisan and collegial discussion about major policy questions. We read each other’s research. We look at the facts. We talk through ideas with those who agree or disagree with us. And we change our policy views over time based on new facts, new research or good counterarguments.

Thanks to this good process, I’ve altered my views on many things. The individual mandate in health care is one of them.

Stuart Butler, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), where he is the director of the Center for Policy Innovation.

Milton Friedman – Health Care Reform (1992) pt 3/4

Milton Friedman – Health Care Reform (1992) pt 4/4

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