“Health Insurance”: The Illusion of Equality
If health insurance is not insurance, what is it? It is a modern version of the illusion that all men are equal—or, when ill, ought to be treated as if they were equal. When religion was the dominant ideology, death was (supposed to be) the great equalizer: once they departed the living, prince and pauper were equal. Today, when medicine is the dominant ideology, health care is (supposed to be) the great equalizer: everyone’s life is “infinitely precious” and hence deserves the same protection from disease. Of course, prince and pauper did not receive the same burial services, and rich and poor do not receive the same medical services. But people prefer the illusion of equality to the recognition of inequality.
Actually, the ruled have always longed for “universal health care,” and the rulers have always supplied them with a policy that the masses accepted as such a service. In the Middle Ages, universal health care was called Catholicism. In the twentieth century, it was called Communism. In the 21st century, it is called Universal Health Insurance. What we choose to call “health insurance” is, in fact, a system of cost-shifting masquerading as a system of insurance. We treat a public, statist political system of health care as if it were a system of private health insurance purchased for the purpose of obtaining private medical care.
Everyone knows but no one admits that health insurance is not really insurance. In fact, Americans now view their health insurance as an open-ended entitlement for reimbursement for virtually any expense that may be categorized as “health care,” such as the cost of birth-control pills or Viagra. The cost of these services is covered on the same basis as the cost of medical catastrophes, such as treatment for the consequences of a brain tumor. Such distorted incentives produce the perverted outcomes with which we are all too familiar.
From a public-health point of view, the state of our health is partly, and often largely, in our own hands and is our own responsibility, even if we have a chronic illness, such as arthritis or diabetes. It is an immoral and impractical endeavor to try to reject that responsibility and place the burden for the consequences on others.