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Socializing the Children


An unlikely conspiracy is afoot to foist socialized medicine on the American people. It’s a conspiracy between the Clinton administration, the Republican-controlled Congress, and the Republican governors, so many of whom would have us believe that being “conservative” signifies a preference for limited government.

While President Clinton failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass his wife’s plan to sovietize medical care in America in 1993, the self-indulgent First Couple has had no trouble getting Republicans to carry out the backup plan: government control in the name of helping children. Once this precedent is firmly established, it will be a short step to government medical insurance for everyone.

In 1997 the GOP Congress and Clinton gave us the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was to provide the states billions of dollars from tobacco sales in order to extend medical coverage to children whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid, the medical program for low-income people. You might wonder why such a program exists. Shouldn’t parents be expected to insure their children without help from the government? The avowed advocates of government control like the program because it’s a slippery slope to national health insurance. But why do Republican governors participate and brag of their accomplishment?

Sue Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom, says the Republicans go along because they fear the Democrats will portray them as beholden to Big Tobacco. They also fear looking insensitive to children.

Whatever the reason, GOP governors throughout the nation embrace the program with relish and constantly remind working parents who don’t qualify for welfare that they might be eligible for free health insurance for their children. In Arkansas, where I live, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee can often be seen on television surrounded by children as he touts his ARKids 1st program. The same thing happens all over the country. So far, some 1.3 children of 2.6 million eligible children are covered.

Perhaps it has dawned on President Clinton belatedly that he has given Republican governors a boost that jeopardizes his own party’s chance to recapture governors’ mansions. At the recent National Governors Association meeting, Clinton chided the state chiefs for not covering enough children. He urged them to use the proceeds from the atrocious suit against the tobacco companies to expand their programs.

Observe what Mr. Clinton is doing. For him, it is not enough that states offer coverage. They are expected to recruit families for this welfare-by-another name-even if they don’t want it. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura says he has trouble getting people to sign up.

Also ominous is Mr. Clinton’s intention to use the government’s schools to rope children into government dependency-as though botching their education isn’t enough.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program is objectionable for many reasons. First, it makes people dependent on government, which politicians like Clinton want. More than a century ago German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck devised a shrewd plan to keep people tethered to the state: buy them off with goodies that they won’t realize they are paying for. He inaugurated the modern welfare state with health, disability, and old age insurance. His political descendents have been doing the same thing ever since. They have been unconcerned that dependence on government is dehumanizing, sapping the autonomy and self-reliance Americans once prided themselves on.

Government entanglement with medicine is particularly dangerous. As we have seen with the socialized systems in Canada and Europe, when government becomes the provider or payer, bureaucrats have the ultimate power to say who gets what kind of medical care. The thought of the government doing triage is scary.

If Clinton and his governor accomplices were truly concerned about people’s inability to afford health insurance, they would repeal all the measures that make medical care and insurance artificially expensive (such as tax gimmicks and licensing) and the taxes that leave people with a lot less income than they earn. Their refusal to do these things-and their insistence on Santa Claus programs-demonstrate that they are more interested in their careers as professional parasites than in the people they claim to serve.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.