The other night there was a Republican Presidential Debate. I didn’t watch it. But a bit of an uproar was caused by a hypothetical question posed to Ron Paul by debate moderator Wolf Blitzer. It went something like this:
“Suppose there is a healthy, prosperous, 30 year old man who decides that since he is young and healthy he doesn’t need to spend 200-300 dollars a month for health insurance. But suddenly he becomes extremely ill and needs 6 months of intensive care in a hospital. What is the responsibility of society to this man. Since he has no insurance, should society just let him die?”
The first uproar was caused by several members of the audience who shouted, “Yeah!!” and applauded heartily, leaving no doubt that this man should in fact be left to die. Set aside , for the moment, the wisdom of hypothetical questions, and set aside further what your position may be on the essence of the question. What kind of person could respond with such glee to the prospect of a 30 year old man struck down in the prime of life, being allowed to die?? Watching the clip chilled me to the bone. Really? That prospect was worthy of an enthusiastic roar of approval? However, the second uproar was caused by Ron Paul’s classically Libertarian answer which , boiled down to its essence, was … in a free society, you are free to make bad decisions, but society is under no obligation to shield you from the consequences of such decisions.
So, on the left, the outrage was over the mean-spirited lack of compassion. On the right, the complaint was that this was another in a long line of loaded, hypotheticals designed to make them look bad. For me, given 24 hours to think out my answer in the comfort of my office and safely away from the glare of cameras, I would have answered the question as follows:
Me: Wolf, First of all, I would like to thank you for throwing me such a perfect softball question!! This is sooo easy! OK, here’s the thing. Your hypothetical 30 year old is both healthy and prosperous, which means he has chosen not to have health insurance. He wasn’t denied coverage because of some pre-existing condition, or prohibited from obtaining coverage because of its’ outrageous cost. In fact, I happen to know that the monthly premium for a catastrophic major medical policy for a healthy 30 year old man runs from between $85 and $150 bucks a month, not the $200-$300 in your example. This sort of coverage would have covered 95% of his entire bill, even for a 6 month hospital visit. No, this 30 year old man decided as a free citizen to take a chance that since he was perfectly healthy, he would always be so. By foregoing insurance, he could spend that money on fun stuff, like a flat screen TV, a new I-Pad, or an awesome week in Cancun. Now, if your hypothetical 30 year old was sick and broke, then “society” has already made the determination that he should in fact be shielded from this type of fate. It’s called Medicaid. All of us pay taxes to provide funds for people who are needy and have health problems. Although Medicaid has serious financial and demographic problems , we as a society have already made the decision that the poor and sick need this part of the safety net. But instead, you are asking whether “society” should be obligated to take care of 30 year old prosperous men who make dumb life decisions. The answer is unequivocally “NO”. See, Wolf, here’s the thing. By using the word “society” you throw people off the trail. Society is a very nebulous and tenuous concept with no check-writing privileges. The correct word in your question should have been…tax-payers, as in , Should the “tax-payers” just let him die? Why should all of the responsible, not so prosperous 30 year old men be obligated to bail out their less responsible peers? I mean, are we free men or not, and do we live in a free society or not? If we are free men, then we must be free to fail. Otherwise, why should anyone do the right thing and provide for themselves if “society” will always be there to clean up after our stupidity?”
Wolf: But, Congressman Dunnevant, what if it were YOUR son? Where’s your compassion sir?”
Me: My son wouldn’t be foolish or immature enough to walk around with no health insurance. And I have plenty of compassion, especially for those struggling, hard working, tax-paying men and women out there who, after paying their health insurance premiums, don’t quite have enough money for an I-Pad or a vacation in Cancun”