As never-let-a-PANIC-go-to-waste grips the country, we’ve been hearing a lot of insistence that the epidemic proves the need for government-run healthcare. Typically, this is merely offered as a Twitter-sized assertion, so there isn’t much specific to argue with. (One suspects that’s by design.)
However, the talk about how our challenge is to keep the incidents within our health system’s capacity rang a bell: specifically, the talk about how the United States has insufficient hospital beds to deal with the potential influx of patients. Here’s the bell, from a House Finance hearing in 2014 on legislation that would have increased the government’s role in Rhode Island health care. This particular speaker is Steve Boyle, who was president of the Greater Cranston Chamber of Commerce, who was advocating for the bill, but the same thing could have been said by any of the supporters:
Boyle says the state needs a “coordinated approach.” “We all know there’s too many hospital beds, but I’m told over and over again that there’s not the political will to close them.”
So, if they didn’t have to worry about “the political will,” the planners at that time would have reduced the number of beds. As it is, our more-socialized health system since Obamacare has overseen a reduction in staffed beds in Rhode Island from 2,535 in August 2012 to 2,424 in August 2018. That 4.4% reduction means 111 fewer spots if there’s a surge.
Now, I’m not saying that the market is always right or that planners are always wrong, but they do take different things into consideration. The market works by finding the value of a particular thing to the society in which it is operating, and that value will naturally adjust for subtler reasons than planners can possibly consider. A culture can remember that its hospital beds filled up at some point in the distant past, while planners might not have the data or might dismiss it.
In times of panic don’t believe people who exploit current circumstances to pretend they would have been able to plan for them if they’d had more power.