A few thoughts worth entertaining from Gov. Butch Otter’s announcement on Tuesday that Idahoans will be able to keep their insurance policies, for the time being, even if they don’t meet the minimum requirements of Obamacare. Otter’s announcement follows President Obama’s decision Nov. 14 to let people stay on the policies the government frowns upon. For a year, anyway.
Otter’s press release is curious on several levels.
First, I get that Otter was away on a foreign trade mission that perhaps slowed his own consideration of the policy. But this always sounded like a no-brainer to me, and the press release captures that: “We’re not going to tell them how to run their business,” says the press release. “Them” refers to insurance companies. OK, but if the state is not interested in telling insurance companies how to run their businesses, then why did it take so long for the Otter administration to make, what appears on the surface to be, an easy announcement? It’s the right call. But why did it take so long?
Second, I completely applaud the sentiment that the state won’t “tell them how to run their business.” If only that were true. The state’s rules governing insurance are extensive. Idaho does, in fact, tell insurance companies how to run their businesses, and did long before Obama made it cool. And all our state regulations have done nothing to lower the cost of insurance. The Department of Insurance owns much of the blame, but governors and Legislatures long before the ones in power today should own their share in the responsibility. To wit:
- Minimum health insurance requirements? That’s something the state has long had.
- Making your kids stay on their parents’ policy until a certain age? Our requirements predate Obamacare, to be sure.
- Can’t buy insurance across state lines? That’s a function of a 1961 state law, not a federal one.
And if you still doubt me, then answer this: Why were Idaho insurance companies unable to offer to reinstate cancelled insurance policies until today? That’s because the state ultimately does decide how insurance companies run their businesses.
Of insurance companies, Otter says in his press release, “I’m not going to add another layer of government restrictions on the marketplace.”
Governor, if you’re looking for another layer of restrictions in the marketplace, I have a mirror I’d like to loan you.
There are very few things where I agree with Barack Obama, but there is at least one. Back in 2001, he described the U.S. Constitution as a “charter of negative liberties.” Now, unsurprisingly, he sees that as a bad thing. He would prefer that the Constitution (or the U.S. government freed from constitutional restraints) be permitted to bestow so-called “positive rights” on individuals.
Fortunately for us, however, the Constitution was based primarily on negative rights.
What is the difference between these concepts? For that answer I turn to esteemed economist and columnist Walter Williams. He explains that the concept of negative rights “refers to the absence of constraint or coercion when people engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange.” The concept of positive rights, on the other hand, is “a view that people should have certain material things—such as medical care, decent housing and food—whether they can pay for them or not.”
So what’s the big deal? The existence of negative rights does not create conflict. I have the right to not be punched in the nose and so do you. I have the right to keep and bear arms and so do you. Everyone can have and exercise all of their negative rights at the same time without a problem.
Conversely, the notion of positive rights is fraught with conflict. If I have a right to certain goods and services such as health care or education, you must be coerced into either providing me with those services directly or funding those who do provide them. It should be obvious that this sets up an inherent conflict, because for every positive right that is created it necessitates the violation of someone’s negative right to not face aggression against his life, liberty or property.
Unfortunately, as our nation has drifted away from the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the negative rights recognized by the Bill of Rights, we have begun to see the creation of more and more fictional positive rights at the expense of our actual, inalienable negative rights. What is the result? I turn once more to Walter Williams:
“What the positive rights tyrants want but won’t articulate is the power to forcibly use one person to serve the purposes of another. After all, if one person does not have the money to purchase food, housing or medicine and if Congress provides the money, where does it get the money? It takes it from some other American, forcibly using that person to serve the purposes of another. Such a practice differs only in degree, but not kind, from slavery.”
We often talk about the dangers of government trying to micromanage our lives and about the slippery slope on which such nanny-statism puts us. This week’s best example comes from our neighbor to the north where the city of Vancouver, Canada, has decided to ban the use of … wait for it … doorknobs in all future housing construction!
Of course, the city claims to have a good reason for this—because a handful of people such as the disabled or the elderly might find traditional doorknobs difficult to operate. Thus, all doorknobs should be eschewed in favor of “lever handles.”
The goal, according to Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the school of social work at the University of British Columbia, is to implement “universal design” standards that allow all facilities to be used by all people regardless of age or disability.
The flaws in this logic are obvious, however. Not only do such laws inhibit the rights of individuals to use their property as they see fit, but where does it end? Will staircases have to be replaced by elevators? Will all the doors and hallways in private homes have to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs? Should ceilings be raised to accommodate the unusually tall?
It would almost be amusing to consider all the potential changes that could be required in the name of total inclusion if these ludicrous laws were not actually being implemented by actual governments not all that far away from Idaho.
Now there are certainly some people with special needs, but thanks to the free market, there are numerous products and ideas that have been developed to help them to live rich, full and independent lives. We certainly don’t need the state to interfere in that free market process and to start demanding that everyone live in exactly the same way. The best way to support true inclusion is to give everyone more liberty so that they can pursue happiness in their own unique ways.
The decision of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) to back Medicaid expansion creates a bit of a credibility problem for the business lobby organization. Not so long ago, IACI argued that the state was better off creating an insurance exchange, lest the federal government do it for us.
Alex LaBeau, the president of IACI, often remarks that given the choice, Idahoans are much better off if they can pick up the phone and call Idaho officials, such as the Department of Environmental Quality instead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His argument won the support of lawmakers, who voted to implement Obamacare with the creation of a state insurance exchange.
Now, IACI says the state should further implement Obamacare by accepting the optional expansion of Medicaid. IACI reasons that Idaho can do what Arkansas did, get permission from the federal government to use private insurance as an underlayment to expand the health care program. Expanded Medicaid, by the way, would replace the state-county program that provides health care services for the poor.
LaBeau, in his letter to Gov. Butch Otter outlining IACI’s position, said Medicaid expansion (which he and others now call “Medicaid Redesign”) “addresses the inherent inefficiencies in the county indigent program and the state’s catastrophic program, and minimizes the cost shift to business.”
We disagree that Medicaid expansion is some kind of panacea, but that’s an issue for another day.
Today, I just point out that IACI is now arguing against itself. In 2012 and 2013, the organization said state control was paramount. That keeping the federal government out of Idaho health care necessitated the creation of a state insurance exchange. Less than a year later, IACI proposes lawmakers shelve the Idaho-run county health care program in support of a program run by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. IACI wants to follow Arkansas’ path, go on bended knee and ask federal authorities for permission to operate expanded government health care the way another state is doing it.
I’m not suggesting that the increasingly expensive Idaho program is the right approach, either. I think Idaho should advance charity care options to fill the gap for the working poor.
But I can’t help but wonder about this rather large IACI inconsistency, and how IACI and lawmakers will resolve it. I also wonder if the oversized influence of Big Medicine on IACIs’ board—hospitals and insurance companies—is playing a part in the organization’s approach to public policy.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an international liberty think tank conference hosted by the Atlas Network. The goal was for each attendee to become better organizationally in the management of free market think tanks around the world.
The “Think Tank MBA” program focused on the essentials of managing each of our operations as well providing time to discuss topics including our mission, vision and strategic objectives. It was incredible training that will remain with me over the years.
However, the most important lessons I learned during the 16 days came in the social gatherings with my 24 classmates and from the Atlas training team. To hear stories firsthand about the challenges in pursuing liberty puts it in perspective.
I now recognize, more than ever, why freedom and liberty matter. To wit:
- The class member from Venezuela who had to go through the black market to obtain permission to come to the United States for the class because the government said no.
- The think tank leader from Hungary who is battling the insurgence of Nazism in his home country, putting at risk the welfare of himself and his family.
- A man from Morocco who organizes leaders in the Arab nations throughout the Middle East to realize the rights of women to drive, vote, receive an education and participate in the affairs of her country without fear of retribution.
I found these wonderful people to be inspirational beyond measure … the sacrifices they make, their willingness to put all they have including their lives in the cause of freedom and liberty.
The pursuit of freedom knows no boundaries. Freedom is a natural instinct for all of us, regardless of borders. From South America to Europe, from India to South Africa, the message received by all will advance the freedom movement around the world.
These stories and the people from “elsewhere” reinforced why what we do at home matters.
We talk about freedom of speech and religion, the right to assemble and voice our opinions about public policies. We do these endless hours of research, visiting with friends and neighbors, attending meetings and so much more because we are the beacon of truth of what is right to the rest of the world. We are the light on the hill that provides encouragement to other liberty-minded people around the globe. It is no accident that the American Dream is understood the world over.
We must continue to support ideas that will increase our individual prosperity and wealth-building so our efforts can provide resources to hundreds of organizations who are fighting for their right to be free. Our work may seem daunting or hopeless at times. But it is not; it is essential to our future here and abroad.
Playing a role in shaping public policy on issues such as health care reform, private property rights, transparency and standing up for individual rights without government interference each day really does matter. Regardless of the issue of the day or whether it is found at the local, state or federal level, we must remain engaged in the struggle to assure that the leaders I spent time with the last few weeks have hope and inspiration to continue their respective quests for freedom. We are their light at the end of the tunnel.
Success in restoring and maintaining liberty comes piece by piece, city by city, state by state … we are that beacon that others look for in the cause of liberty around the world.
It is a tireless fight. But freedom matters.