Health Insurers On the Defensive

Speaking at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania on Monday, President Barack Obama launched a fierce attack on health insurers who, he said, “continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy.” The remark comes amid a renewed wave of renunciations of insurance companies as the administration attempts to push its health care reform agenda through Congress.

The president’s words immediately drew criticism from the insurance business. Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, stated that his industry’s workers “do not deserve to be vilified for political purposes.”

Zirkelbach’s organization is set to spent over $1 million starting next week on televised ads that defend health insurers. “For every dollar spent on health care in America, less than one penny goes toward health plan profits,” he said. “The focus needs to be on the other 99 cents.”

The focus won’t be though, nor should it be. Businesses that accept the premises of those who are out to destroy them will inevitably fail at their game, for free enterprise cannot be defended on altruist grounds.

There is a fitting paragraph in Ayn Rand’s article “The Obliteration of Capitalism,” published in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) that describes the circumstances.

There are the businessmen who spend fortunes on ideological ads, allegedly in defense of capitalism, which assure the public that all but a tiny fraction of an industry’s income goes to labor (wages), to government (taxes), etc., with these shares represented as big chunks in full-color process, and, lost among them, an apologetic little sliver is marked “2½ percent” and labeled “profits.”

Such attempts, notes Rand, cannot disguise the nature of capitalism nor degrade it to the level of an altruistic stockyard. What they will achieve, is convince the public “that capitalism hides some evil secret which imbues its alleged defenders with such an aura of abject guilt and hypocrisy.”

That secret, which modern day spokesmen of the free market so often try to obscure and which its opponents denounce with high-minded vigor, is that capitalism is the only moral socioeconomic order because it ensures man’s right to work and to live for his own sake rather than exist as a sacrificial animal.

By trying to justify capitalism on altruist grounds, the public is urged, according to Rand, to regard its virtue as evil, “and it is altruism that all [these] efforts help to reinforce and reaffirm as the standard of the good.”

The health insurance industry shouldn’t pride itself for turning marginal profits, nor should it try to apologize for leaving millions of Americans uninsured. It is not the responsibility of business to provide for the people’s wellbeing. It isn’t anyone’s responsibility to provide for the people’s wellbeing in fact except their own.

Private health insurance can never achieve what the reformers in Washington demand: full coverage for every citizen. It shouldn’t have to answer for failing to accomplish what is not its purpose nor its obligation. But if it tries to pretend that it can; if it tries to pretend that a free enterprise can work “in the people’s interest,” it has lost the debate beforehand.