Admittedly, “stop being poor” sounds a bit like “let them eat cake.” The remark was made by Todd Wilemon, a managing director at NYSE Euronext, when he was asked what people should do if they could not afford health insurance. “Stop being poor,” was his answer.
Callous? Crude? Mean? Not really. Kevin D. Williamson explains how the ineptly-named Affordable Care Act isn’t providing insurance for all who can’t afford it.
Appropriating a certain amount of money and labeling it “health care for the poor” is not the same thing as providing poor people with access to doctors, hospitals, and medicine. It is easy to move money from one pocket to another, which is how we manage to spend a figure approaching a half-trillion dollars per annum on Medicaid with very little to show for it in terms of better health outcomes for poor people. In Tennessee, Medicaid alone spends about $10,000 annually for every poor person in the state, and poor Tennesseans of retirement age or older already have access to Medicare.
We spend the money, but we do not get the health care.
Why not? Because there aren’t enough doctors, there are too many doctors who won’t accept Medicare, and all the subsidies and mandates in the world aren’t going to fix that. The solution? Stop being poor.
The only real solution to health-care poverty is for people to stop being health-care poor. The solution to relative scarcity is relative abundance. Market-oriented health-care reforms, such as opening up narrow state-regulated health-insurance markets to national (even better: global) competition would draw more resources into health insurance and, more important, into health care itself.
Mr. Wilemon’s “stop being poor” was not a standalone statement. He appended to it the pragmatic counsel that one should work on one’s education and get — and keep — a job, which is how people stop being poor in the developed world.
Williamson goes on to say that “stop being poor” does have a precedent: the United States.
Earlier in our national history, confidence in access to basics such as food and shelter was by no means certain for many Americans. But then they stopped being poor. As recently as the 1950s, books were a luxury item for many Americans. But then they stopped being poor. As recently as the 1970s, the cost of groceries consumed a much larger share of the average family’s income than it does today. But then they stopped being poor. Food stamps did not make food plentiful and cheap; more farmland, better irrigation systems, Monsanto lab geeks, and GPS-enabled combines did that.
Moving money from one government program to another, or from a taxpayer’s pocket to the government’s does not create wealth. It just moves money around. Creativity, invention, innovation, business, job creation, investments: this helps people stop being poor. Name a government program that does that.