Krugman, Tennessee Fires, and Health Care
By David Henderson
After I posted Tuesday about the Tennessee fire, I saw that Paul Krugman had posted about it also. About the Tennessee fire department that refused to put out a fire for someone who had refused to pay $75 a year for the service, he wrote:
This is essentially the same as denying someone essential medical care because he doesn’t have insurance. So the question is, do you want to live in the kind of society in which this happens?
Clearly, he doesn’t want to live in such a society. But his analogy with medical care got me thinking. In New York a police officer blocked a mother from taking her daughter, Briana Ojeda, to the hospital. According to Will Grigg, the cop, Alfonso Mendez, even after telling the mother that he didn’t do CPR, proceeded to write a ticket because the mother had driven the wrong way on a one-way street. The daughter thus lost precious time and, although she reached the hospital, died shortly after that.
So which do you think is worse: not providing health care to someone who doesn’t pay or forcibly preventing someone from getting health care who is willing to pay? I think the second is worse. Interestingly, though, Paul Krugman didn’t bother to write about Briana’s case. Now, maybe that’s just because we have to pick our topics and he didn’t have time. But in Canada every day, the government forcibly prevents people from buying health care. When my father needed surgery for his leg, for example, he was not allowed to go to a doctor or hospital and pay for it. For the vast majority of medical services in Canada, people are not allowed to pay. That’s what single payer means: the government pays and individuals are not allowed to. Not surprisingly, that’s why Canadians line up for health care. I’ve never seen Paul Krugman criticize this aspect of Canada’s health care system. In fact, to the extent he has addressed Canada’s system, he has praised it. So given his criticism of the Tennessee fire case and his analogy to health care, I take it that in Krugman’s mind, forcibly preventing someone from buying health care, the essence of Canada’s system, is not as bad as refusing to provide health care to those who don’t pay for it.