If you were following the news at all this week, by now you’ve probably seen or at least heard about the clip above from the Republican “Tea Party” debate. Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a sick man should be left to die if he’s uninsured, and before Paul could answer, several members of the audience yelled, “Yes!” and applauded.
To their credit, most of the candidates later expressed their dismay at that moment in the debate (Rick Perry, for example, said he was “taken aback.”) But the part of this exchange that was most interesting wasn’t the tea party loudmouths– it’s Ron Paul’s answer to the question:
“I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid in the early 1960s when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa hospital in San Antonia, and the churches took care of them,” Paul said. “We never turned anybody away from the hospital. And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea — that’s the reason the cost is so high. The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy.”
Blitzer’s question is actually less hypothetical than he probably realized. A tragic example from Paul’s own experience shows why charities can’t fully replace government programs:
Paul’s 2008 campaign manager, Kent Snyder, went through a strikingly similar experience to Blitzer’s hypothetical one, dying of complications from viral pneumonia just two weeks after Paul ended his presidential bid. Snyder was uninsured, so family and friends were forced to raise funds to cover his $400,000 in medical bills. Their efforts included setting up a website soliciting contributions from Paul supporters.
The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein points out the obvious: “Not all uninsured individuals can rely on family, friends or campaign email lists to raise $400,000.”
Ezra Klein, in a great post on why libertarianism fails in health care, sums up the problem:
It’s all well and good to say personal responsibility is the bedrock of liberty, but even the hardest of libertarians has always understood that there are places where your person ends and mine begins. Generally, we think of this in terms of violent intrusion or property transgressions. But in health care, it has to do with compassion.
We are a decent society, and we do not want to look in people’s pockets for an insurance card when they fall to the floor with chest pains. If we’re not going to look in their pockets, however, we need some answer for who pays when they wake up — or, God forbid, after they stop breathing — in the hospital. And though it sounds nice to say that charities will pick up the slack, any hospital system in America will tell you that even with Medicare and Medicaid assuming much of the burden for the most intractable and expensive cases, charities are not capable of or interested in fully compensating the medical system for the services needed by the un- or underinsured.
Bonus: Speaking of crazy statements during the debate…
If you were wondering whether there was any truth to Michele Bachmann’s assertion that the HPV vaccine (which protects women from an STD that leads to cervical cancer) causes mental retardation, the short answer is no. For the longer answer (which is still no, by the way), head to this article from the nonpartisan website factcheck.org.