Writing in the Wall Street Journal, George Newman makes some intelligent points about health care, but he also falls victim to the same logical flaw for which he faults his opponents. Mr. Newman faults proponents of an expanded government role in health care for arguing both that there are uninsured without health care and also that the costs of care for the uninsured are being shifted: "So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we are harangued about the 45 million people lacking medical care, and on Tuesday and Thursday we are told we already pay for that care. Left-wing reformers think that if they split the two arguments we are too stupid to notice the contradiction." It's a good catch. But in the next breath, he argues that universal insurance coverage will increase the cost of care because "Suppose you are in an apple market with 100 buyers and 100 sellers every day and apples sell for $1 a pound. Suddenly one day 120 buyers show up. Will the price of the apples go up or down?"
To use Mr. Newman's rhetorical style: "So, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we are told that the 45 million people lacking health insurance in fact just lack insurance but can get medical care, and on Tuesday and Thursday we are told that expanding insurance coverage to the uninsured would increase the overall demand for medical care and thus drive up prices. Right-wing opponents of expanding the government role in health care think that if they split the two arguments we are too stupid to notice the contradiction."
The apple-market analogy is flawed in other ways. An increased demand for apples may raise prices in the short term, but over time the market will adjust. Some buyers, deterred by the newly high price of apples, will substitute other goods, deciding to buy pears instead, lowering the demand for apples, and, eventually, the price. Some sellers, observing the newly high price of apples, will decide to plant more apple trees, increasing the supply of apples and eventually lowering the price. You'd think that right-wing opponents of an expanded government role in health care would be wanting to defend a market-based system, rather than arguing that American consumers, like some sort of delicate flowers, need to be protected from prices that adjust to reflect supply and demand.