Repeal and Compete

Modern conservatism, at least in its pre-Donald Trump incarnation, evolved to believe in a marriage of Edmund Burke and Milton Friedman, in which the wisdom of tradition and the wisdom of free markets were complementary ideas. Both, in their different ways, delivered a kind of bottom-up democratic wisdom — the first through the cumulative experiments of the human past, the second through the contemporary experiments enabled by choice and competition.

In health care policy, however, conservatives tend to simply favor Friedman over Burke. That is, the right’s best health care minds believe that markets and competition can deliver lower costs and better care, and they believe it even though there is no clear example of a modern health care system built along the lines that they desire.

The dominant systems in the developed world, whether government-run or single-payer or Obamacare-esque, are generally statist to degrees that conservatives deplore. A few of them — notably Singapore’s, the beau ideal of right-wing health care wonks — do have distinctive elements that conservatives favor. But mostly they tend to be much more heavily regulated and subsidized than the system that conservative health policy wonks and policy-literate Republicans would like to see take over from Obamacare.

Which is not to say that the conservative health policy vision lacks empirical grounding. There is compelling evidence that markets in health care can do more to lower costs and prices than liberals allow, and good reasons to think that free-market competition produces more medical innovation than more socialized systems.

But still — there is no existing system on a national scale that looks like the health care system that Paul Ryan or Tom Price would design, no wisdom of developed-economy experience that proves that such a system would actually keep overall costs low and prevent too many people from being shut out of insurance markets. So embracing even the smartest conservative Obamacare alternative requires a not-precisely-Burkean leap of faith.

And this, in a nutshell, is why Republicans should give serious consideration to the proposal that Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Senator Susan Collins of Maine have just put forward as a possible health care reform alternative.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary