Diary

Another way to think about Health Care "Reform"... Halloween!

I’ve got a few liberal and liberal leaning friends who just don’t seem to “get” why Conservatives are against the type of “reform” being provided in the recent bills.  When I say that they seem to “trust the Government too much,” they always state that the believe that America won’t “stand” for abuse by politicians of the system… again they don’t understand why Conservatives seem to believe that the Government would look after their self interest instead of the People.

What I’ve decided is that the problem is that Health Care is “too important.”  Everyone has an emotional stake in health care, and therefore the whole “we’ve gotta do something” and “a friend of Uncle Albert’s coworker’s boss’ daughter’s friend’s cousin once got refused treatment” stories cause many people to shut off the critical thinking part of their brain and dive at what sounds, on the surface, to be morally good.

Therefore, I propose a different kind of thought experiment, one without the emotional baggage of health care.  I offer a thought experiment…

…about Halloween.

All around America on All Hallows’ Eve, thousands of kids, repentant in costumes, go door to door in search of free candy.  It’s become almost an American tradition all across the country.  It’s also a big sales day for candy makers and retailers.

But there’s a problem.  You see, not all parts of the country are able to afford the expensive costumes and candy.  Some kids simply don’t get to enjoy Halloween like others, and this just isn’t fair.  We decided in the 60s, therefore, to pass a means-tested system, where poor families and neighborhoods could apply to get money every year for costumes and candy.  Draclulaid, we called it, and it seemed a nice way to help the poor.

At time went on, however, the bar for “poor” slowly went up, and the budget for Draculaid slowly inflated due to waste and fraud.  But it would be political suicide to do anything against Draculaid… what, do you hate kids?  So the program slowly bloats every year.

As time goes on, we slowly add more features to Draclulaid.  Halloween isn’t fun without decorations, is it?  We add decoration appropriation to Draculaid.  We add federal subsidies to pumpkin farmers to make sure there’s enough Jack-o-lanterns for America come Halloween.

But despite the billions the federal government and states spend on Draculaid, there simply are millions of impoverished families who still can’t afford Halloween.  We really need to cover those millions of people as well.

Part of the problem is Big Candy.  The large candy manufacturers have slowly raised the price of candy every year, citing higher costs, but always walking away with a record profit every year.  Many on the left decry this evil pillaging of poor families, while right-wingers point out that Big Candy is a business, and therefore is entitled to set their own prices.  In an attempt to make this fair we set up some controls on the candy industry, regulating the size of “Fun Size” candy and the minimum weight of packages.  We increase spending for Draculaid to make sure everyone can afford candy.

We also empower the Federal Dental Association, the FDA, to set candy standards that Big Candy must follow, regulating the sugar content and packaging for candy on the market.  They must not be too enticing (lest kids overindulge and get cavities), and each package must come with the warnings about the health dangers of overeating.  Candy commercials are required to list the medical conditions that may come from overeating… you’ve heard them.  “Excessive caloric intake from Snickers bars may cause numbness of the extremities, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and in some cases death.  If you have eaten more than five Snickers bars, please see your physician.”

The problem of all this regulation, though, is that candy manufacturers have to spend millions a year on specialized packaging and compliance to regulations.  Their market is distorted by federal, state, and local price controls and requirements, making it difficult.  And to make it even worse, if somebody gets sick from eating candy, even if the fault entirely rests on the eater, the candy companies get sued and lose millions of dollars in “jackpot” cases, where juries get to make up enormous sums for damages.

Somehow, despite all this, candy companies make profits every year.  This is used as proof that they don’t care about the millions who can’t afford Halloween, or the millions who choose not to celebrate.  When it’s pointed out that if the candy companies became non-profits, under the rules and regulations as they exist, the price of a bag of candy would only go down a cent or two, this is ignored, or even reviled as an attempt by Big Candy to get rid of the “necessary” regulation.  (Necessary to keep them “fair.”)

Despite years of forcing Big Candy to be “fair,” however, it’s decided that we need “reform” of the system.  The reform consists of many big pieces of legislation, even cutting out the backroom dealing and pork:

  • A “Public Option” is debated;  Government owned candy companies who produce similar products compared to the national brands.  This is said to increase “competition.”
  • More legislation and regulation is proposed; a series of “candy panels” are developed to analyze the candy eating patterns of the US and decide which candies should have increased production (because there are shortages every year) and which candies are simply “too expensive.”  These candy panels will be used by the Public Option to decide which candies to produce and which to not.
  • Also proposed is a Candy Exchange;  this exchange will decide which candies MUST be produced and available on the market by the various candy companies, to ensure that everyone has fun on Halloween.
  • In order to make sure that everyone follows the rules, the law will require that every household have a Candy Exchange approved minimum of candy, in specific Exchange specified proportions, to ensure that their neighbors get a wide variety of candy.  Those who do not provide the correct amounts of candy can be fined, or even jailed.  Despite this, we are told that if we have a batch of candy that we like, we will be allowed to keep our favorite batch of candy… as long as it is approved by the Exchange.
  • High end costumes and candies will be subject to a “Cadillac Tax,” which will be used by the Public Option to fund Halloween fun for the poor.  It’s OK… the type of families who can afford giant punch bowls of truffles and fully animatronic zombies can afford more expensive truffles and zombies.

After wheeling and dealing, the House and Senate both create 2000 page bills.  Both bills are slated to cost near a trillion dollars, but we all know Government estimates are always low.  Both claim to cover all the poor, to ensure a Happy Halloween for all… but both have large gaps of people who don’t qualify even for the new plans.  Both claim to stimulate the economy, but ignore the massive overhead and impact on candy companies and retailers.

The opposition starts to make noise.  It’s pointed out that the “Public Option” will be incredibly expensive… and besides, there’s thousands of candy companies out there, national and local.  One more “option” won’t really increase competition that much.  Besides, the quality of Government Chocolate most likely won’t be very high.  And like all Government programs, it’s gonna be full of waste and fraud.  Finally, the Government Public Option won’t have to pay tax, and will have an infinite amount of money available from the Government… thereby allowing them to set artificially low prices, making it that much harder for national brands to compete.  Some supporters just ignore these details, or claim that it’s hogwash, or even claim that those are features to be proud of!  Some fully expect Government Chocolate to suck, but believe that this will simply cause the poor who depend on it to find a way to get the non-sucky national brands (who will somehow find a way to compete), and that this way the “Public Option” will encourage growth away from Government need.

Someone on the right makes a remark about “Antifun Panels,” pointing out that unelected bureaucrats will be assigned to decide which candies are “fun enough” and which are not.  That the panel will be encouraged to not always pick the most fun candies, but the candies which are cheapest to produce because the Government will need to save every nickel it can from the Public Option.  “Nonsense!” says the opposition.  The opposition believes that the panels will be independent enough to ensure that the candy produced is fun enough without breaking the bank.

It’s also mentioned that Public Option candy will, by necessity, have to be rationed.  The simple fact is the budget for candy production will be finite, the costs of the candy will have to be taken into consideration, and even if the Public Option candy is sold without a profit, there will be a finite amount available.  The fun panels will have to define a minimum and maximum amount of fun that can be provided to Public Option recipients, and those numbers will be fixed.  Again, supporters believe that the panels will be fair, and will somehow be able to take into account the variables to Halloween around the country to ensure fair fun for everyone.

Another concern is raised, however:  Special Interests.  The fun panel which decides which candies will and won’t be produced by the Government will also be able to set the regulations on the national brands.  Some worry that various groups, like the ACLU (American Caramel and Licorice Union) or People for American Whey might have undue influence on the decisions by the panel on candy production and regulation.  Again, this is proclaimed to be utter nonsense… the panel, we are assured, will be independent in all ways.

Just when the people think it can’t be worse… it turns out that it can.  For there are a large group of Americans who, for various reasons of security (not wishing to answer the door) or religious belief refuse to support Halloween.  For some, they don’t want to be required to open their door to strangers.  For others, however, they simply don’t want their tax money to be spent perpetuating, what they say, is a holiday promoting pagan beliefs.

An amendment to the House bill was passed which adds language which excludes those with objections to the handing out of candy from having to pay for facilitate the activity for others, but Pro-Halloween advocates swear that they will NOT pass the bill if the language is in there.

So, today this is where we stand.  The House and the Senate have both proposed 2000 page bills regulating the market, adding an expensive Public Option, regulating fun, putting more roadblocks in front of private business, and taxing everyone (individuals, small business, candy companies, and retailers) out the ears… all in an attempt to make Halloween fair and fun for everyone.  But in none of the bills do they do anything to actually solve the problems facing the system now, such as the high cost of sugar and other regulated ingredients, the patchwork of rules which make it so expensive to follow them all, the jackpot lawsuits which cost millions if they can’t be settled for merely hundreds of thousands… in fact, the system appears to be designed simply to give the Federal Government the power to control the candy industry more tightly, and to provide free (or nearly free) candy to their voters in an attempt to buy continued votes… or else those evil Other Guys will come in and take away your free candy!

We’ve gotta decide:  do we want to reduce our choices and give the Government more power over Halloween with an incredible price tag, in hopes that a few more people who we’ve recently classified “poor” can have a little extra Government Approved Fun, or do we want to keep the liberty to choose exactly where we buy our candy and costumes, how much we individually spend, or if we even want to give candy to strangers… perhaps we wish to take the entire bag with us to the basement for a night of incredibly high blood sugar?

I’ll admit… this example isn’t a perfect match. Halloween candy isn’t as important as access to health care, and adding “Candy Insurance” would stretch too far.  And I didn’t even cover the problems with having employers provide bags of candy as part of their package when enticing workers.

But still… this sounds incredibly ridiculous and overzealous on the Government’s part when it comes to Halloween candy… but it sounds perfectly fine when it comes to Health Insurance?  There ARE problems with our system now, and there’s even ways to fix them, by loosening some regulations, and tightening others, etc.  But a massive overhaul of the system is NOT needed to make it work… but a massive overhaul is what we’re going to get… because we MUST DO SOMETHING NOW!