Car insurance vs. health insurance

It’s the meme that just won’t die: ObamaCare apologists claiming that government-mandated health insurance is no big deal, because drivers are required to purchase insurance for their cars.

A particularly stubborn recitation of this talking point poured from Piers Morgan of CNN recently, during an interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann.  Morgan kept repeating it even after Bachmann adroitly shot it down:

“What is the difference ideologically to a Republican like you that is so opposed to this, what is the difference between Americans being forced by law to have insurance to drive a car and being forced by law to have insurance for their health?” Morgan asked, tendering what would be a good question, if he didn’t clearly think it was rhetorical.

As Bachmann pointed out, the most obvious difference is that driving an automobile is not mandatory, while ObamaCare is an inescapable, coercive program that hits Americans the moment they begin breathing, and lasts until they stop.

The common leftist rejoinder to this observation is that driving a car is more-or-less kinda-sorta essential for success, so in practical terms auto insurance becomes essentially mandatory for most of us.  This is a flimsy argument at best, since even a “very important” activity is not logically or legally equivalent to “mandatory.”  It might have escaped the notice of Piers Morgan, but we don’t need a billion-dollar bureaucracy with 16,000 IRS agents to ensure compliance with the auto insurance laws.

Also, it’s curious to hear people who generally believe Americans drive too much, and should pay more for fuel so they don’t destroy the Earth with their incessant motoring, fall back on automobiles as their preferred example of an essential activity.

The auto insurance comparison is also flawed because the ObamaCare tax hits people who refuse to participate in compulsory commerce.  For a more accurate comparison, we’d have to implement a special tax penalty against people who refuse to purchase and drive a car.  And if we did such a thing, what do you suppose would happen to the cost of auto insurance?

Which brings us to another huge reason this comparison is absurd: auto insurance is “insurance.”  It fits the functional definition of an insurance program: the buyer pays a modest amount, on a steady basis, to purchase financial protection against unanticipated, catastrophic expense.  This protection is very affordable for safe drivers, because the insurance companies are permitted to measure risk against reward, and charge lower premiums for those deemed less likely to make expensive claims.  A driver who gets into many accidents, and submits a high volume of claims, can expect to pay much higher premiums, as can people who fall into groups known to have a high level of risk, such as young men.

A wide range of options is offered to the buyer of an auto insurance policy, who is invited to shop around between many different providers to get the best deal.  The buyer can accept higher levels of financial risk – larger deductibles, lower maximum payouts, and less comprehensive coverage – in exchange for lower premiums.  The value and nature of the covered automobile, which was freely chosen by the driver, is also a strong factor in determining the price of coverage.

Auto insurance does not pay for routine vehicle maintenance, gasoline, or optional enhancements to the car.  It is possible to purchase separate maintenance programs that provide such services at a discounted rate, in exchange for pre-payment, but no one thinks it would be a good idea to fold those maintenance plans into insurance policies.

What we generally refer to as “health insurance” bears only the most tenuous relationship to a true insurance policy.  That relationship became even more strained after ObamaCare, which includes the signature feature of compelling “insurance companies” to provide inexpensive policies to people with pre-existing conditions.  ObamaCare also mandates a huge range of compulsory benefits for insurance plans, including many things a young, healthy buyer is not interested in.  It aggressively destroys low-cost policies with limited benefits, which are especially popular with young people.

“Health insurance” creates an incredible degree of distance between patients and doctors, unrivaled by almost any other private sector service.  Very few patients have any idea about the true cost of medical services.  They don’t have much freedom, or incentive, to “shop around,” and medical providers don’t have much reason to “compete” for their business.

The next time some thoughtless liberal decides to compare auto insurance with health care, let’s turn it around and ask them why the government doesn’t mandate the purchase of car insurance for every American as soon as they’re born, including government-defined mandatory benefits including routine oil changes and tune-ups, with no surcharge for high-risk drivers with bad records.  Failure to comply could result in a “tax penalty,” which the government could use to fund high-speed rail projects.