Health Care: Reply to Reeves Brown, Executive Director of Club 20
by Ari Armstrong, April 20, 2007
In an April 16 column for Grand Junction's Free Press, my father Linn and I critique Club 20's proposal "to mandate basic health care for everyone," submitted to the Commission for Healthcare Reform. On April 18, the paper published a letter by Reeves Brown, Executive Director of Club 20.
I can understand why Brown is upset. The proposal that his group submitted is an embarrassment. Its central tenet demands the blatant violation of individual rights, as my dad and I point out. Unfortunately, Brown apparently never learned that he shouldn't offer gratuitous insults when he can't even be bothered to get his basic facts straight. Brown's reply misrepresents the column to which he claims to respond. Here, I offer a point-by-point rebuttal to his letter. While my dad and I wrote the April 16 column, for this piece I write solo.
Brown begins by comparing the column to a work of fiction. He claims that the column "has all the ingredients of a good Tom Clancy novel." This is ironic, because the statements in the column are consistently correct and verifiable, whereas numerous claims in Brown's letter are demonstrably false.
Brown writes, quoting a few words and phrases of the column out of context, "'Betrayal,' 'political force to violate people's rights,' 'confiscated dollars' and an 'Orwellian system.' Yikes, everything but Armageddon itself."
With his opening, Brown makes a crude ad hominem attack. This is not surprising, because the column amply demonstrates its claims, Brown cannot refute them, yet Brown nevertheless wishes to defend his club's proposal. Brown makes no effort whatsoever to show that Club 20 has not "betrayed the Western values of independence and liberty," as the column claims. That's because Club 20's proposal clearly violates the principles of liberty. Brown does not refute the column's claim that Club 20's proposal entails the use of "political force to violate individual rights," because it does precisely that. Brown does not refute the column's claim that Club 20's proposal requires "confiscated dollars," because the proposal transfers wealth by force (i.e., confiscates dollars).
Is Club 20's proposal "Orwellian," as the column claims? Here's the paragraph from the column in which the claim occurs:
As if this all weren't Orwellian enough already, Club 20 also wants to make sure that all of our medical records are part of the state system: "[W]e propose that all payers and providers of Tier 1 coverage be required [i.e., forced] to participate in an integrated end-to-end system of electronic administration that incorporates enrollment records, patient treatment records, payment records and beyond."
This paragraph occurs after the column discusses Club 20's plans to ration health care and create a new bureaucratic agency to oversee the whole program.
A central theme of Orwell's 1984 is the pervasive state monitoring of everybody. I leave it to the reader to decide whether Club 20's proposal is sufficiently invasive to count as "Orwellian." I continue to think that when the government rations health care, creates new bureaucratic agencies to oversee our medical treatments, and forces everyone to submit all their health records, health-related payment records, "and beyond," to a government-mandated database, that sounds fairly "Orwellian." Brown makes no contrary argument; he offers only vacuous derision.
Brown continues, "CLUB 20's proposal for comprehensive health care reform was developed over weeks..."
That Brown's club wishes to "mandate basic health care for everyone" based on long weeks of deliberation is hardly comforting. It doesn't matter how long people contemplate the violation of individual rights: the strategy is still wrong.
"...of collaborative discussions between doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, insurance industry representatives, members of the business community, and individual consumers."
The fact that a few self-selected to advocate more thorough state control over our lives and join Club 20 does not improve the club's proposal.
"As a result, it represents a true model for reform that acknowledges the uncomfortable truths of our current failing health care system and requires everyone to contribute to a sustainable and more equitable solution for quality health care."
Stating that the model is "true" doesn't make it a good one. Granted there are problems in U.S. medicine, but is it really a "failing... system?" Regardless, Club 20's proposal is neither a moral nor a practical solution to existing problems in medicine.
But notice that here Brown does admit that Club 20's proposal "requires everyone to contribute" to the government-organized health plan. Is this "political force?" Is this the confiscation of dollars? Of course it is. When Brown says that his club's proposal "requires everyone to contribute," he means that the government will force everyone to contribute.
Brown's next line is his most (inadvertently) humorous: "I read through Mr. Armstrong's diatribe several times..."
Brown's statement is ironic, because one might imagine that after a couple of readings he would have caught on to the fact that the column is written by two authors. Yet on three occasions Brown attributes the column to a single author.
"... and didn't find that he proposed anything remotely resembling a constructive alternative to our proposal."
Here Brown is fibbing. The column certainly does offer an alternative. The column states:
The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. We have the right to control our own lives, consonant with the equal rights of others, and to join in voluntary associations and contracts. The government's role is to prevent the initiation of force, stop fraud, and enforce contracts...
Get it? Schwartz's proposal is an alternative to Club 20's proposal. The main point of the column is to criticize Club 20's proposal, not detail the alternative, but the column most certainly does propose "a constructive alternative," complete with a link to the Commission's web page, where Schwartz's proposal may be read in full (even "several times," if the reader wishes).
Brown continues, "But I did find this: 'Roads are not an appropriate model for medicine.' .... I'm not exactly sure what this means or has to do with anything, but it seemed to make the most sense of anything he said in his letter."
But the line from the column makes perfect sense in context. Here are the two relevant paragraphs from the column:
In his 2006 paper, "No Miracle in Massachusetts," the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner writes that the hope to cover nearly all of that state's uninsured "appears to be wishful thinking." Tanner notes that, even though auto insurance is also mandated there, "roughly 7 percent of all Massachusetts drivers remain uninsured."
As Brown surely realizes, some people try to argue in favor of mandated health insurance on the basis that auto insurance is also mandated. The column declines to discuss the appropriateness of mandated auto insurance but points out that mandated health insurance is not justified, regardless.
Brown writes, "If any of your readers are actually interested in contributing to a solution for our failing health care system, CLUB 20 welcomes them to the table and appreciates the constructive input."
Brown thus suggests that my dad and I are not "actually interested in contributing to a solution." Yet, despite Brown's crude personal attack, I've spent a great deal of time promoting individual rights in medicine. On the other hand, Club 20's proposal is fundamentally destructive of our rights and our health.
Brown continues, "You can actually read CLUB 20's proposal on our Web site at www.club20.org..."
Of course, the column provides an alternative web address at which Club 20's proposal may be found.
Finally, Brown claims, "You can get a good government conspiracy story at your local bookstore... or (as in the case of Mr. Armstrong's letter) on the opinion page of the Free Press from time to time."
This is perhaps Brown's most ridiculous and most dishonest claim. The column's critique of Club 20's proposal is based on lengthy, direct quotations from the proposal itself. The phrases "mandate," "enforcement mechanism," "appropriate limitations on that care," and "mandates and sanctions" come straight out of Club 20's text. The column offers an accurate, straight-forward review of Club 20's proposal, along with a reasoned analysis of its major flaws.
Brown makes plenty of personal attacks in his letter, but he does not refute a single claim made by my dad and me in the April 16 column.
April 23 Update: On April 20, I sent the following e-mail to Brown:
Dear Mr. Brown,
Here is Brown's reply -- or, rather, his notice that he refuses to reply: