Monday, August 10, 2009

Comparing Insurance Apples And Oranges

I came across a new argument in the health care debate (new to me, at any rate). If you've been paying attention at all then you already know that one of the most controversial components in the reform package being discussed is the one that says everyone will be required to purchase health insurance or pay an annual fine for not doing so. Needless to say, there are many people who don't like being told they have to buy something whether they want it or not. It's intrusive. It's even insulting. Oddly enough, it's also quite the opposite of saving money since many of those people who choose to not have insurance are those who are young, healthy, and and possessing a lower income. The argument says, "You don't complain about mandatory auto insurance. Why should you complain about mandatory health insurance? You care more about insuring things than people?" This, of course, ties into what I said yesterday about demonizing your opponents so they are more easily dismissed, but there are a few problems with this argument.
For starters, there are many people who do complain about mandatory auto insurance and it is safe to say that all of these people are also numbered among those who complain about mandatory health insurance. These people don't much care for mandatory anything. They believe that it is demeaning to tell a free adult what to do with his or her life. I have to admit, I lean toward this camp, though I do not fit squarely within. I will make carefully tailored exceptions, but they're rare and you have to show a good, rational reason.
Of course, there are those who don't complain about mandatory auto insurance but do complain about mandatory health insurance. Why is that? What is the difference?
Well, for one thing, it is misleading to say that everyone is required to purchase auto insurance. No, actually it is plain false. You are only required to have auto insurance if you own and drive a car (or a truck or motorcycle or whatever you put on the highway). You are free to opt out of auto insurance by taking mass transit, riding a bicycle, walking, bumming rides with friends or family, or just plain not going anywhere (there are shut-ins and they are certainly not required to maintain auto insurance). In short, mandatory auto insurance is a long way from universal.
Mandatory auto insurance also serves a completely different purpose from mandatory health insurance. While there may be exceptions I don't know about (I doubt it, but you're free to correct me if I am wrong), the only thing mandatory about auto insurance in all locations with which I am familiar is liability insurance. In other words, you are not required to carry insurance on yourself; you are required to carry insurance to cover the possibility of your damaging someone else. That is a very distinct difference. See, this is why I said I make carefully tailored exceptions. I'm not thrilled with mandatory auto insurance laws, but I can see the necessity. When you're hurtling several hundred pounds of plastic and metal down the highway at sometimes dizzying speeds and surrounded by many many other fast-moving, heavy masses, it is safe to say that things can go wrong sometimes and there should be some reliable means of compensating the injured party when that "things can go wrong bit" happens to be your fault. I believe there are things that could be done to make the mandatory nature less onerous, but politicians are too lazy for that and I don't believe in miracles. At any rate, we can safely maintain that requiring you to carry some form of comprehensive health insurance on yourself and requiring you to carry some form of liability insurance on your car are not the same thing. They're not even cousins. Maybe distant cousins by marriage, but that's about it.
The final nail in the coffin of this comparison is the simple fact that auto insurance requirements are handled by state laws, not federal law. In fact, using a collection of state laws to justify a massive overreach of federal responsibility strikes me as serious arrogance, ignorance, or some twisted combination of the two. Are you people really not aware of the fact that one of the biggest complaints in this debate is the fact that this is not a proper, Constitutional function of the federal government? And you're using an example of that fact to support your case? You didn't think this through all the way, did you?
Apples and oranges have never been comparable and they still aren't. Just because you're trying to be snarky doesn't mean you're being clever. Perhaps if those of you who are so convinced you are right would step down off your high horses for a little while and actually listen to what is being said, rather than dismissing your critics as EEEEVIIIILLLLL, you might actually be able to have a debate and get something accomplished. Crazy talk, I know, but I'm pretty sure it's been done before.

1 comment:

  1. One thing missed in the mandatory auto insurance debate is that many people are on food stamps because they had to buy auto insurance or pay a fine if they became delinquent on their fines. A survey (poorly done) by the Montana DPHHS in Billings, MT showed 12 of 96 food stamp applicants said auto insurance was a reason for needing food stamps. (That equals 30,000 over the past twenty years in Montana).

    It is uncertain whether the mandatory medical insurance package will increase the nrs on food stamps, especially if enough poor have their medical insurance paid for by the taxpayer. The Billings survey is at