January 16th, 2004

obscure mythologies (photograph)

You know it's time to switch political parties when ...

The Libertarian Party, on whose e-mail list I remain even though I'm gradually moving leftward on economic issues, just sent me a missive with a plea for money.

For them? No. For their previous chairman, Ron Crickenberger, who is suddenly suffering from a painful form of cancer -- and whose health insurance, due to his having lost his job due to downsizing, is a ticking COBRA time bomb.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the only thing I can feel is schadenfreude. My very first thought on reading that he had no health care because of his unemployment was, "Doesn't that merely illustrate that we should be making every effort toward a single-payer health care system?"

The Libertarian Party, true to its roots, feels Mr. Crickenberger's problem is best solved through voluntary contributions and private enterprise. And that's what they're asking for. Good for them. But there are tens of millions of people without health insurance in this country, and hundreds of thousands of those are in equally precarious situations with deadly or serious diseases.

Mr. Crickenberger has a large political party to issue a plea for charity on his behalf. Those others do not. Are they less deserving?

I surfed through to the LP's policy statement on health care. The primary point of their five-point plan is to establish tax-free Medical Savings Accounts. Would such a plan have helped Mr. Crickenberger? Possibly. Would such a plan have helped the millions who have no health insurance because they've been unemployed for 6 months or more; or working at subsistence wages? The ones who simply can't afford to set aside the $200 or more per month that would be required to provide any sort of basic insurance cushion for a family of four? You've got to be kidding. A single, simple inpatient surgery can cost as much as a new car. MSAs are an upper-class shell game.

Then they talk about deregulating the health care industry and privatizing Medicare and Medicaid. I'll concede that competition would bring costs down; that's the way it works. But how do for-profit health care providers make their profits? HMOs and insurers take in a certain fixed amount per worker, per paycheck; they can't make more of a profit by charging more, so the only sure way to bring costs down is to provide less care. This is where we get such quirks of the health care industry as exclusions for "pre-existing conditions." How exactly can our health care system be defined as humane -- or even sane -- when it covers well people and refuses to cover sick people?

This is part of a larger and growing dispute I have with the LP: the argument that fairness is either unimportant or a natural consequence of efficiency. Both of those are demonstrably wrong -- not in all cases, but in at least some, enough to knock out the foundations of their principled and unwavering free-market stand and bring them down into the same muck as the rest of us. And the way things are trending -- with income gaps growing, and real wages stagnant for the majority of Americans and continuing to trend down -- pushing for further free-market solutions is not going to increase parity.

The Libertarians and I still agree on civil liberties, but I can't justify the economic stance -- especially after seeing what the no-new-taxes cut-cut-cut is doing to Cailfornia.

Next time I hit the post office, I'll pick up a voter registration form. Could be time to throw my support to the Greens, or maybe just get disgusted with the system and register as unaffiliated.

I'd wish Mr. Crickenberger good luck with his health care problems, but there's a few million folks out there -- including one I know personally, and myself back in 2002 after I broke my arm -- who need the luck a lot more than he does.