COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | ROGER BROWN

Ebola, nature and the Affordable Care Act

Johnny Carson once quipped “Wouldn’t it be great if they found out that taxes cause cancer?” Today he might not think that so funny. People in Texas are worried because quarantine protocols may not have been followed at a hospital treating a patient with Ebola.

A careful look at how government health care performs in a crisis driven by nature reveals many things.

By now few doubt that Obamacare has increased the administration of health care. Nor is anyone surprised. Whenever government assumes oversight responsibility for a system, the cost of that system rises. It is a law about laws.

We can’t claim the Affordable Care Act causes Ebola. But it is correct to say that health care is less affordable, therefore less efficient, once a large transaction cost is added to it.

Those interested in the details may wish to consult the Affordable Care Act Burden Tracker available for download. Or, just ask your doctor. Mine tells me he is making the same amount of money this year as last, working just as much, but seeing 15 percent fewer patients. Draw your own conclusions.

Resources in Dallas existed to implement the Ebola, protocol but some of those resources are devoted to filling out forms. Chrysler president Lee Iacocca told the UAW a quarter century ago, just before the first Chrysler collapse, “I have 300,000 jobs at $17 per hour and none at $20 per hour.” Iacocca and the UAW appealed to an economic law based on equilibrium to arrive at the conclusion they did, and cars continued off the assembly line at $17 per hour.

Since then there has been a tendency to depart from natural laws in favor of the man-made variety and Ebola, while not the first, could be a dramatic test of this folly. Today, the health care field can channel Iacocca with, “We have 24 hours each day. We have to sleep some of them. For the rest, we can either fill out forms or save lives. Which do you want us to do?”

The bureaucrat, whose livelihood is based on collecting filled-out forms, has a simple answer: “Get those forms filled out. If you have time left to save lives, that’s a bonus.”

Such is the upside-down logic of a command economy. It indulges in the foolish notion that men can pass laws which repeal Laws of Nature. The long look always refutes this. Since the dawn of time, life expectancy has increased at a slow but constant rate despite plagues, wars and their aggregate, something we know as legislation. Also since the beginning, civil convulsions follow the imposition of thousands of burdensome, conflicting and unnatural laws.

The sad truth is that people who contract Ebola, or any other disease, will either survive it or they won’t. That is a law of nature. What laws of man do, to the extent they are effective at all, is influence how many survive.

If the choice is between filling out forms and caring for the sick, remind me again how government helps? If government is so good at health care, why don’t they just pass a law making it a crime to be stricken with Ebola? In Nancy Pelosi’s world, only a few more forms will fool Mother Nature.

No one, sick or well, is immune from government pestilence. Millions work two part-time jobs to patch together full employment. Thousands of employers tweak scheduling algorithms to avoid exceeding the maximum number of full-time employees allowed to remain exempt from the Affordable Care Act.

We need laws. Society must govern itself. But there must be a recognition and appreciation of how many laws nature has already provided us that work well and cannot be countermanded.

Government likes truth in labeling. Thus a law that makes something more expensive should not be called “Affordable.” In the interest of accuracy let’s just rename it “The Not-Affordable Care Act.” Or to be more specific and topical, today we can call it the “The Not Treating Ebola Act.” It is a generalization of Johnny Carson’s complaint. A regulation is a tax. This one is not causing Ebola. But it is also not limiting its spread.

There is a bumper sticker that says “Death is Nature’s way of telling us to slow down.” Ebola is telling us to slow down government.


Brown is an investor and freelance writer residing in Alpine.

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