29 July, 2009

Self-interest, the rich, and national health care

I heard a comment on Marketplace yesterday that the rich should favor national health care from self-interest, because that would protect them from diseases carried by the poor.

Not true. The diseases endured by the poor in today's America are not in general communicable. Things that are communicable—measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, etc.—have free (or highly subsidized) vaccines at your local public health clinic. (Yes, we have those even in Mississippi.) For crying out loud, these days they'll even vaccinate you against chicken pox, which in my childhood was a rite of passage for grade schoolers.

By contrast, the diseases taking the hardest toll on the poor in America today—diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc.—are not in any sense communicable. They don't spread by viruses or bacteria; they spread via genetics and poor lifestyle choices. Judging by recent news, moreover, people who are avoiding vaccines are doing so not because they have to buy food instead, but because they are terrified that the mercury used in culturing the vaccines provokes autism. This story isn't at all true, but that doesn't stop the bumper stickers that say, "It's no mystery: it's mercury."

Every time a communicable disease does look to affect a sizable swath of the population—rich or poor—the government gets underway to do something about it. Remember swine flu?

So nationalizing health care won't affect whether poor people make rich people sick. If you want to get rich people on board the nationalization train, you'll have to find a better argument than that.

2 comments:

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jack perry said...

I'm sorry you removed your comment. North Carolina and Mississippi are two of the states you mention that require chicken pox vaccines before attending school.

The whooping cough vaccine also appears to wear off after the teenage years (and I suspect I caught it a couple of years ago!).