Affordable is a dangerous word. Loan sharks always advertise their services as affordable. So do all sorts of "Get It Now - Pay Later" businesses. If it's affordable, the cost is often hidden or it's not worth even its affordable cost. Often both. And that's because the easiest people to rip off are the people who can't afford things. They are the ones likely to get it now and then keep paying for it later even years after realizing that they didn't want it in the first place.
Nowhere is this clearer than health insurance, which every politician running for every office from dog catcher to supreme emperor of the planet tells us he, she or it are committed to making more affordable.
ObamaCare is a triumph of affordability, turning health care into a national Walmart, offering suppliers a bulk mandatory customer base, including those young people who weren't interested in shelling out the dough for health insurance, in exchange for service adjustments and bulk discounts. Except that health care is not a bulk business and so the discounts don't actually apply. Neither do the savings.
When Walmart orders 2 billion grills or notebooks from China, the factories in some dirty city that used to be farmland a few years ago begin rushing to meet a bulk order. The bulk order allows them to take out loans, get more efficient equipment and pour in 50 percent more pig parts and toxic waste into the slurry and develop a plan knowing that they will be in business for the next six months.
There is no such thing as bulk health care, or rather there is, but you don't want it. Patients still have to be treated individually and while routine patient visits can be staggered, medical problems cannot. Some doctors would like more patients, but bulk insurance does not solve that problem. What it does is jam more patients into the health insurance system, many of whom are there due to the mandate and will impose minimum strain on the system, while paying into the system.
To get back to the Walmart model, this is not like creating discounts through bulk ordering, but like forcing everyone on your block to join Sam's Club, even when they don't buy in bulk and don't need anything that Sam's Club is selling, so that Sam's Club can afford to give you a discount and a little more for your money.
This model of health care isn't any more affordable, it just provides alternative revenue streams for health insurance companies to offset their affordability losses. It's also as ethical as invading Japan and forcing their entire population to join American HMO's that don't cover Japan. That would have a similar effect, but then so would just stealing a few hundred billion dollars and giving it to health insurance companies.
An affordable product is internally affordable. A product can be made more affordable by making its production more efficient, by lowering its quality or by paying employees and managers less. Walmart, for the most part, achieves lower prices by lowering product quality and relying on cheap labor.
We already outsource a chunk of our health care from foreign nurses to x-rays being analyzed in the same places those nurses come from. Cutting costs by cutting labor costs makes health care more affordable, but outsourcing to the Third World also lowers quality drastically. We've learned to accept toasters that last two years and television sets that have to be replaced on a regular basis, but most people are not prepared to swap health care quality for health care affordability.
But this really isn't too much of a concern. With health care unions dominating the landscape, most outsourcing will just involve Third World professionals bringing their low quality of care and low regard for human life to this country. The other side of the coin is patient utilization. And that is the brass ring for national health care systems.
From an expert standpoint, if patients randomly choosing or not choosing to buy health insurance is too chaotic for a stable marketplace, then patients deciding to see doctors or not see doctors is also much too random. In their ideal world, every patient would be plugged into a program that would determine what kind of care he or she needs to provide maximum productivity and anything the patient has to say about it would be ignored. All sorts of rewards and punishments would be applied with the goal of keeping the patient healthy through interaction with lower level medical staff so that he or she will hardly ever have to see a doctor.
As plans go, this one makes Communism seem sane, but it's the backbone of every regional health care initiative which depends on using cheaper staff to teach patients better health practices so as to lower their system utilization. And the plans begin with fighting childhood obesity in the hopes of later saving billions on treating adult health attacks.
Like Communism it's evil and like Communism, it's also unworkable because none of the savings will be there fifty years down the road, just an even more expensive and more broken system that everyone hates, yet everyone depends on. Affordable health care will never be affordable, not if affordability measures cost against value. Like a Walmart toaster, the more seemingly affordable an expensive product becomes, the lower its quality will be.
Health care will be affordable, but its value will be far lower, and its cost will be far in excess of that value. Instead of buying a twenty dollar product for thirty dollars, we'll be buying a five dollar product for fifteen dollars. We'll be paying more relative to what we're actually getting. And worse still most of the cost will be hidden. So the actual deal will be paying fifteen dollars for a five dollar product and then being billed fifteen dollars every month in a hidden bill because you thought it was only fifteen dollars, when it was actually fifteen dollars a month. All those unpaid bills, calculated at a horrifying interest rate, add up and are passed on to your heirs so that the toaster now costs more than they make a year.
That's affordability, government style.
The superstores took off, because for all their flaws, they were more competitive. Government isn't more competitive. Its bulk sales only manage affordability by burying the cost or sticking someone else with the bill. The numbers never add up, because there is no motivation to make them add up.
Businesses compete against other businesses, but what do governments compete against? They compete against other governments. How many times have American politicians said that we need to be more like Europe or less like Europe? That's economic competition, government style, but there's no economic element to it. It's just the only thing to do. Just like when Obama blathers on about competing with China, he doesn't care if we beat China, but at his level, there's nothing else to compete against. You either compete against China or you give up and stop bothering.
Governments don't compete against each other in efficiency. Even now when businesses can pick up and leave for more favorable economic climes, the most that countries will do is lower tax rates and offer other incentives. What they won't do is become more efficient at delivering services, because the majority of the population that is dependent on those services cannot pick up and leave.
What governments compete on is building giant useless things, whether it's entire ghost cities in China, national bureaucracies in Europe and America or giant stone heads on Easter Island. The ancient Egyptians built tombs for the dead, we build bureaucratic tombs for the living. It's just something that people with a lot of money and power do with their free time before they go off to play a game of golf or whip a slave.
Businesses compete on making money. Governments compete on spending money. This doesn't make one more moral than the other, but it's a fair warning on who to trust with what functions. You don't privatize national defense and you don't nationalize health care, not unless you want your defense plans sold to the highest bidder and your health care being run by a medical version of the Pentagon.
Government cannot even make itself more affordable, it certainly cannot make anything else more affordable. It cannot do things better, it can do them bigger. This is an asset when building an army, not when providing medical care to individuals. Collectivism works somewhat on tasks where the individual is disposable. It does not work at all when the life of the individual matters.
Government is big, but it's not smart. It doesn't have to be smart, because unlike a business, it isn't in a competition. A big business got that way by finding ways to make money. A big government got that way by finding ways to take money. When big business tries to make something more affordable, then however immoral it may be, it operates under real world conditions. When big government tries to make something more affordable, it assumes that total control will allow it to also control all the possible variables that will make the impossible work out. The more it fails, the more control it exerts until it ends in a broken tyranny and nothing works anymore and no one believes that anything can ever work again.
Don't believe that? Head left, take a turn at Moscow and behold the leftovers of the Soviet Union. The Communists had a very simple slogan, "Land, Bread and Peace". They couldn't and wouldn't deliver on even a single one of those. But their health care was affordable, the envy of the whole world, and their death rate for adult men was twice that of the United States. And no, we won't do any better than they did.