In Praise of Discrimination

I’m scared.

I fear that even if the Supreme Court overrules most of Obamacare (or did already, by the time you read this), Republicans will join Democrats in restoring “good” parts of the law, like the requirement that insurance companies cover kids up to age 26 and every American with a pre-existing condition.

Those parts of Obamacare are popular. People like getting what they think is free stuff. But requiring coverage to age 26 makes policies cost more.

Even Bill O’Reilly lectures me that government should ban discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions. Most Americans agree with him. Who likes discrimination? Racial discrimination was one of the ugliest parts of American history. None of us wants to be discriminated against. But discrimination is part of freedom. We discriminate when we choose our friends or our spouse, or when we choose what we do with our time.

Above all, discrimination is what makes insurance work. An insurance regime where everyone pays the same amount is called “community rating.” That sounds fair. No more cruel discrimination against the obese or people with cancer. But community rating is as destructive as ordering flood insurance companies to charge me nothing extra to insure my very vulnerable beach house, or ordering car insurance companies to charge Lindsay Lohan no more than they charge you. Such one-size-fits-all rules take away insurance companies’ best tool: risk-based pricing. Risk-based pricing encourages us to take better care of ourselves.

Car insurance works because companies reward good drivers and charge the Lindsay Lohans more. If the state forces insurance companies to stop discriminating, that kills the business model.

No-discrimination insurance isn’t insurance. It’s welfare. If the politicians’ plan was to create another government welfare program, they ought to own up to that instead of hiding the cost.

Obama — and the Clintons before him — expressed outrage that insurance companies charged people different rates based on their risk profiles. They want everyone covered for the same “fair” price.

The health insurance industry was happy to play along. They even offered to give up on gender differences. Women go to the doctor more often than men and spend more on medicines. Their lifetime medical costs are much higher, and so it makes all the sense in the world to charge women higher premiums. But Sen. John Kerry pandered, saying, “The disparity between women and men in the individual insurance market is just plain wrong, and it has to change!” The industry caved. The president of its trade group, Karen M. Ignagni, said that disparities “should be eliminated.”

Caving was safer than fighting the president and Congress, and caving seemed to provide the industry with benefits. Insurance companies wouldn’t have to work as hard. They wouldn’t have to carefully analyze risk. They’d be partners with government — fat and lazy, another sleepy bureaucracy feeding off the welfare state. Alcoholics, drug addicts and the obese won’t have to pay any more than the rest of us.

But this just kills off a useful part of insurance: encouraging healthy behavior. Charging heavy drinkers more for insurance gives them one more incentive to quit. “No-discrimination” pricing makes health care costs rise even faster. Is it too much to expect our rulers to understand this?

Of course, the average citizen doesn’t understand either. When I argue that medical insurance makes people indifferent to costs, I get online comments like: “I guess the 47 million people who don’t have health care should just die, right, John?”

The truth is, almost all people do get health care, even if they don’t have health insurance. Hospitals rarely turn people away; Medicaid and charities pay for care; some individuals pay cash; some doctors forgive bills. I wish people would stop conflating the terms “health care,” “health insurance” and “Obamacare.” Reporters ask guests things like: “Should Congress repeal health care?” I sure don’t want anyone’s health care repealed.

Reporters also routinely called Obamacare health “reform.” But the definition of reform is: making something better. More government control won’t do that. We should call politicians’ insurance demands “big intrusive complex government micromanagement.”

Let the private sector work. Let it discriminate.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

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Last Week, In Case You Missed It: February 12, 2011

It was an historic week in Egypt, the Packers won the Super Bowl, Gabrielle Giffords started to speak, Christina Aguilera mangled the National Anthem, and Lindsay Lohan thought that channeling Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct would be a good look for a court appearance. But we really covered none of that in Oak Ridge Now this week, save for our editorial cartoons. Here’s what we did cover:

We published two In The Spotlight interviews this week, the first with Oak Ridge High School’s Chris Steinley (who might look good with a milk mustache), and the second featuring Ryan Anthony, who talked extensively about his passion for Young Life, and the opportunities it provides for high school kids on our community.

We had two Unknown Soldiers features, the first reflecting upon the life and death of Pfc. Sam Huff, and the other providing a glimpse of family members who serve together in the armed forces. Teresa Strasser also weighed in twice this week, talking about the guilt that comes from putting your baby on formula, and the appreciation she has for her perfectly average baby. In Lost in Suburbia, Tracy Beckerman details her conversation with the garage door police.

In our other regular features, Dear Margo addressed having a wedding with feuding parents and stepparents (the correct answer should have been, “elope somewhere in the Caribbean, and forget about everyone else”). She also answered a reader who wondered if it would be cruel to tell her 80-year old father how much she hated he and her stepmother  for the past 25 years. Hint: let it go.

Someone wrote to Dave Ramsey and asked, essentially, “My girlfriend has run up a lot of debt, is considering filing for bankruptcy, and wants to move in with me. I’m wondering of this is a good idea”. Dave urged caution. Will E Sanders recounted his adventure with the cable guy, we posted a recipe for Valentine’s Day cookies, and showed you how to grow an indoor herb garden.

Texas lawmakers have been keeping busy, filing bills to make sexting illegal, and regulating the practice of sending students to court for misbehavior in class. Governor Rick Perry wants them to also consider working to create a way college students can get a degree in Texas for $10,000. Provided, of course, that the student is a citizen with a valid birth certificate whose parents haven’t yet been deported or turned away at the polls because they didn’t have a valid voter ID.

In the “stuff that may only be interesting to me” department, we had a story on the last words of some folks who have been executed in Texas over the past 30 years. Future executions might be in jeopardy, though, as at least one of the drugs in our lethal injection cocktail is now only manufactured by liberal Europeans, who take a dim view of our death penalty. Finally, we recapped local news, including a fatal accident on Rayford, and a peek at which restaurants failed their health inspections.

We took a look at the growing number of wind farms along the Texas Gulf coast, and we looked back on all the big talk of the federal government forcing banks to modify mortgages. Sadly, it looks like talk may have been all it was.

In sports, the Oak Ridge High School boys basketball team continued to fight through adversity, clinching a playoff spot with a win over Lufkin. The Lady War Eagle soccer team ran into some problems, and our favorite girls basketball team played their last home game.

Tom Purcell recalled his David Cassidy haircut from the 70′s, and after reading that, I couldn’t get the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” out of my head all day. It’s a curse, I tell you. A curse. Bill O’Reilly talked about interviewing the President (you can’t just open with “Yo Barack, how you doin’?”), John Stossel railed on federal regulation, and Mark Shields explains why the Redskins’ Daniel Snyder is the worst professional sports owner known to man.

All that in one week of Oak Ridge Now. Read us. Like us. Share our articles on Facebook.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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