Why Johnny Can’t Reason
By Tom Sullivan
February 28, 2010 - 10:11pm ET
A recent dip into conservative drive-time talk radio raised Michael Shermer's question: Why do smart people believe weird things?
It’s not as if the conservative talk audience is all Mensa members. (Sean Hannity, at least, need not apply.) And it’s not as if the left doesn’t believe its share of nonsense. It’s that conservative “experts” with educational pedigrees and elite-sounding, non-elitist titles spout ideas they expect listeners to accept without question.
Like how replacing employer-based health insurance with health savings accounts means a $10,000 raise for the average family.
The day of the president’s health care summit, the Cato Institute’s Director of Health Policy Studies, Michael Cannon, spoke with WBT Charlotte’s Tara Servatius. No surprise, neither had anything good to say about the Democrats’ health care reform proposals. Neither showered praise on health insurers, of course. They know which way the wind blows. Instead, Cato’s Cannon recommended more and bigger health savings accounts. [timestamp 34:22]
Cannon: That $10,000 that employers use to buy coverage for average, for the worker with average family coverage. That $10,000 doesn’t come out of the employers’ profits. That comes from workers’ wages. His salary would be $10,000 higher if he weren’t getting health benefits at work, and he’d be able to use that money to pick, to purchase coverage that meets his needs – and it stays with him from job to job – that’s more secure and provides higher-quality coverage ...”
Plus freedom and all that. The employer-based system takes financial decisions out of people’s hands, Cannon said. He recommended that “we give that money back to the American people” and allow market forces to control costs.
Read: Relieve companies of paying employees’ health care costs and the average American family gets a $10,000 raise – a libertarian “peace dividend.” Johnnys all around Charlotte nodded at their radios. So did their local radio host.
Servatius: You know what’s fascinating about that, Michael Cannon, if I had been allowed to do that for my, at the last two employers I had ... Let’s just say, had it been a real option where say I could write that $10,000 off and lower my tax, you know, my total taxable income… If I had done that going back, you know, seven years when I wasn’t having children and I was single and, you know, maybe went to see a doctor once a year, maybe. I could have paid for the births of both my children in cash. Chosen my doctor. Been able to shop by prices. Would have had it in the savings account and really would have been able to do it competitively. And would have still had a ton of money left over, in cash, to pay for my health care.
And if pigs could fly, we could train them to bomb the Taliban.
Cato isn't quite that naive. Still, it is on A.M. talk peddling the idea that eliminating employer health plans would mean a boon for employees, not windfall profits for employers. Freedom-loving employees who wish to manage their own health care could drop out of their employers' group health plans. Employers would simply roll over $10,000 into employees’ health savings accounts. Next up, Cato will sell you some swampland in Florida.
Maybe these smart people – experts – don’t really believe their own nonsense. They just expect us to. They expect working families getting by on $40,000 a year to save $10,000 a year. They expect sleep-deprived workers stretched thin from juggling jobs, kids, shopping, church, home and car repairs, bills, etc., to take a graduate course in America’s labyrinthine health care system and to comparison shop for medical procedures when little Johnny gets sick. Or else endeavor to persevere.
Experts like these spend their time fretting about economic efficiency and market “distortions.” They would hand business another windfall and expect workers to pay for it with an unfunded mandate – of time. Workers who can’t handle it? Well, that’s what natural selection – like applesauce – is for.
Current health savings accounts are okay, Cannon believes, except they’re too small. They leave employers still controlling too much of workers’ health care dollars.
Cannon: So what we need to do is wrest from the employers the money that they use to purchase our health insurance so that workers control that money. Workers can save it in a large health savings account, and then use that money to purchase insurance that meets their needs.
Wresting money from employers to benefit workers? If a liberal said anything remotely like that, the torches and pitchforks brigade would be in the streets calling for his Marxist head on a platter. Thank goodness it was said in that happy place called conservative talk radio where the credulous come for their daily dose of alternate reality.
No wonder Johnny can’t reason.
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