In Senate confirmation hearings over Trumps nominee for Health and Human Services, “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders lobbed Representative Tom Price, a supposed advocate of free market healthcare, a big fat fastball down the middle of the plate. Sanders asked Price point blank if he believed healthcare is a right. Price didn’t just swing and miss. He didn’t even swing, taking all the way for a called strike.
Sanders’ question gets to the moral heart of the debate over healthcare policy in particular and the proper role of government more broadly. A confident and true advocate of free markets and the principles of a free society would have knocked Sanders’ pitch out of the park. As Kimberly Alters reports for The Week:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made the idea of health care as a "right" a central idea of his presidential campaign and has pushed a federally run single-payer system, was unimpressed with Price's promises and grilled the representative during his questions Wednesday. "Do you believe that health care is a right of all Americans whether they're rich or they're poor?" Sanders asked.
Price began his response by saying that America is a "compassionate society" — to which Sanders immediately objected.
You can watch the 1 minute 27 second exchange here, then read my version of how I wish Price had answered:
“There is nothing compassionate about ‘helping’ workers, children, and elderly people classified as ‘poor’ by forcing coercive redistributionist or regularly government policies or some other form of involuntary obligations on others. Nothing. Once you violate people’s right to govern their own affairs and decide for themselves how to use their own time or earned money, including on matters of charity and voluntary economic contract, you forfeit your right to the label ‘compassionate.’
“As far as health care as a right, let’s properly define rights. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action to pursue your own goals and flourishing, not a guaranteed claim on goods and services that others must be forced to provide. A guarantee of healthcare that others are forced to pay for or provide may be classified as a government privilege. But it is not a right. If you want to debate whether the government should be in the business of giving unearned privileges to some people at the coerced expense of others, we can debate that. But we must be clear that there is no right to goods and services that others must be forced to provide, because there is no right to access to other people’s wallets or time against their will. No, Senator, health care is not a right. That idea is un-American.”
Sadly, Price instead vaguely promised that every American will be guaranteed healthcare access. As Jeva Lange reported for The Week:
President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for health and human services secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), stressed the vitality of "choice" while promising health care access for "every single American" in his Senate hearing Wednesday.
Price laid out his six principles for health care, including "affordability, accessibility, quality, responsiveness, innovation, and choices." "No one is interested in pulling the rug out from anybody," he said, addressing many Americans' concerns about losing their insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
Understandably, “Many on the left were unimpressed by his promises . . .,” Lange concluded.
So was I, to say the least. Why? Because free markets imply the absence of government coercion, and you can’t guarantee universal health care without government coercion.
It’s certainly true that free market reforms must be phased in over time to give people and the markets time to adjust. No one is expecting Republicans to achieve or even advocate at this time a fully free health care market in one draconian politically and practically unrealistic step. But if Republicans are unwilling or afraid to state the principles of free markets—that is, individual rights—up front in direct and transparent challenge to the socialists’ brazen assertions, then there is no hope of ever achieving a free market. How on Earth are Republicans to build on today’s free market reforms, to the extent Republicans can enact them, if they don’t state the animating principles of free markets and a free society explicitly? On what basis do they prevent a rollback of their reforms in the future, let alone take the next step forward?
The Left is unabashedly open in stating their [collectivist] principles, which is why socialism keeps advancing in America, despite occasional retrenchments. And it didn’t take long for the Left to seize on Price’s moral cowardice. Editorialized the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “When pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders about whether he views health care as a right, Price deflected: ‘We're a compassionate society,’ he said. Americans deserve ‘access’ to high-quality health care.” “So rest easy,” mocked the Star-Ledger, “much like everyone has access to a $10 million house, or a 40-foot yacht, or $29 cocktails at the D.C. Trump hotel, they will have access to health care under the Trump administration.” Such is what to expect when moral confidence meets apologetic evasiveness.
To be fair, Price has been hired by a Leftist boss who has promised, as the Star-Ledger observed, “that no one -no one! - who currently has health coverage under Obamacare will lose it. ‘There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it,’ Trump said last weekend. ‘That's not going to happen with us.’"
But that’s really beside the point. It’s not enough to clash on policy. Free marketeers must challenge on moral fundamentals. Only on that basis can we then entertain political compromises; compromises that score net, lasting gains for liberty. Sanders gave Price a gift—a chance to seize the moral high ground and thus political momentum for free marketeers in front of a nationally televised audience—and Price caved. He blew it. Shameful. What a missed opportunity.
What if Someone Can't Afford Healthcare In a Free Market?
Bernie Is Blind to Compassion without Compulsion—Christopher Machold