I attended the town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in Wallowa May 8. A few incidents stand out in my mind.
Walden was adept at answering questions by reeling off mind-numbing statistics. He was also adept at not answering direct questions, such as “Do you believe affordable health care is a privilege or a right?” And he had no recourse but to agree with the veteran who pointed out that Medicare –– a single payer system –– works very well.
Walden referred to the health care “market” several times. He talked about his earnest desire to determine why health care is so expensive and becoming more so all the time. With all due respect, I don’t believe it takes a rocket scientist to figure it out.
Health care is expensive because it is not a free market. It is a captive market. Walden’s efforts, and those of his like-minded colleagues, to solve the health care crisis through market mechanisms is doomed.
In a free market, all players –– buyers and sellers alike –– have equal access to information, have access to other willing sellers and buyers and are free not to participate. This is obviously not the case with health care.
Patients know far less about health care options than professionals do, and that knowledge is difficult to obtain. In a word, we trust our health care providers to help us make decisions.
Also, the demand for health care is highly inelastic. When your appendix has ruptured, you are in no position to negotiate or go find a different “willing seller.”
Finally, look at the players. On the one hand, millions of little people with highly inelastic health needs, and on the other, a handful of very large corporations that control the purse strings. This is not a recipe to drive down costs. It is a recipe to gouge the customer.
This is why, imperfect as it may be, a single-payer system providing universal health care is the only reasonable approach to the health care crisis, in a democracy, anyway. What civil society is content to let its members suffer and die on the crucifix of corporate profit?
In my working life, I have taught accounting and economics, started and ran a business for 20 years and have advised many other business owners and entrepreneurs. I know that the free market has a valuable role to play in a free society.
But not all the ills of society can or should be addressed by the “invisible hand.” This country can afford to provide reasonable health care for all.
The one incident at that meeting that Walden should pay most attention to is that when he asked the question, “How many in the audience favor a single payer system?” Nearly every hand in the place went sky-high.
Rick Bombaci is a teacher and a business owner and lives in Enterprise.