Political satirist and author P.J. O’Rourke once wrote of the four ways you can spend money:

  1. You spend your money on yourself.
  2. You spend your money on other people.
  3. You spend other people’s money on yourself.
  4. You spend other people’s money on other people.

In the first case, you’re likely to do some good bargain shopping to get the best stuff for the lowest price. When spending your money on other people, you tend to go as cheaply as you can–that is why ugly polyester ties see a big upswing in sales around Father’s Day. When you spend other people’s money on yourself, you can really live high on the hog, and the sky is no limit–Dom Perignon and fine caviar for breakfast! But when you spend other people’s money on other people, you have no reason to care what is bought or how much it costs. Sadly, this is how our government spends money. Is it any wonder that we get truly stupid spending like mohair subsidies?

One of the current big issues being forwarded by President Bush is a welfare prescription drug benefit. In this case I am absolutely opposed to this new entitlement program. Interestingly, those newfound Democrat spendthrifts who balk at the $87 billion Bush requested to help fight terror and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan are clawing each other in their rush to spend over $400 billion on this newly-proposed benefit for America’s elderly.

Why do the elderly need assistance in paying for their drugs? On average, the elderly are the richest age group in our nation, so they are most equipped to pay for their own pharmaceutical needs. So why are government people on both sides of the political aisle in such a rush to pass this benefit? For one very simple reason: elderly citizens vote, and in vast numbers. Career politicians know that if they can count on the elderly vote, they will never be voted out of office. And that, after all, is their primary concern.

So here we have the wealthiest portion of America’s population on the fast track to get a major government handout to pay for their drugs. And there are plenty of elderly folk who are eagerly anticipating this bit of government largess. After all, they are entitled to this money because they are old, right? Well, not really. But try telling that to the old folks with extended blue-veined hands. I wrote previously about the nature of rights in our country. Basically, I do not have the right to access your money, time or labor. This is why the UN’s statement that we have the “right” to food, clothing, housing and medical care really means they want the right to plunder your pocketbook to pay for other people’s food, clothing, housing, and medical care. These are not rights–these are demands!

Since we have dismissed the erroneous idea that health care is a right, what are some of the other reasons people are clamoring for this new handout? Believe it or not, I have heard several people lay claim to this benefit merely because they are elderly. Really. In their minds, they have achieved the right to vacuum money from your hip pocket because the sun has risen and set on them a magical number of times. While I applaud their longevity, I do not appreciate their willingness to take my money.

The high cost of health care is probably the most commonly-used excuse for this program. After all, the elderly would not need our money to pay for their prescriptions if health care were not so very expensive in our country. But this is backward reasoning. Health care is so high-cost precisely because it falls into the fourth spending category: spending other people’s money on other people. What incentive does the doctor have to compete with other doctors and offer the best service at the lowest cost if his fees are paid by someone he never sees?

My wife’s mother recently had an extensive surgery performed on her foot to reconstruct her bones. To understand how the foot was healing, her podiatrist ordered a series of scans. When the bill came back from the x-ray imaging center, it was almost twice what the regular hospital charges for a full-body MRI. If the doctor had not spotted this extraordinary charge, neither Mom, nor the doctor, nor the insurance company would have noticed or cared. This lack of accountability is one of the primary reasons why health care costs are increasing. In a short while after the passing of this new benefit, health care costs will continue to rise, probably even faster than before, and the cry will come up from the elderly that their doctor visits and surgeries are costing too much. The politicians will see the need to “fix” this problem by tossing even more of other people’s money down this rathole.

So what is this new welfare prescription drug benefit? All together now: it is spending other people’s money on other people. This will do nothing to reduce the cost of health care. It will just force the fewer, poorer young generations to care for the numerous, wealthy retirees. This is like saving a burning house by pitching buckets of gasoline onto the fire. Not a smart move, but since the largest voting block in the nation will benefit, you may be assured that the drug benefit will pass both the House and Senate with ease.

How can we break this spiral of rising costs? The only sure way to change it is to shift the trend from spending other people’s money on other people to spending our own money on ourselves. If we succeed, then our natural desire to spend the lowest amount of money on the best possible product will provide a much-needed brake on the cost of health care. This principle works when we buy cars, clothes, and candy, so why would it not work with health care? It certainly worked in the days when people paid for their own health care, and it would work much better than the current system.

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