Empowering the Poor

Janet Guthrie has built a thriving business from a very unusual idea: getting second opinions on medical treatment. As Forbes tells the story, it began when Guthrie wanted to avoid a costly medical treatment recommended by her doctor. She researched the subject and discovered that some doctors were using another procedure that worked just as well-and cost less. Today, Guthrie earns nearly $200,000 a year helping other people shop and compare in order to cut their health bills. Health reform tops the domestic policy agenda today. But the president's plan is diametrically opposed to the principle Janet Guthrie uses: Instead of increasing consumer choice, it would reduce choice. In the Clinton plan, everyone would be required to join regional alliances regulated by a National Health Board. Every plan would have to include a minimum-benefits package. In essence, the federal government would turn health insurance into a state utility, operating within the narrow confines of federal regulations, like gas and electric utilities. The justification for this vast restructuring of the health industry, we are told, is that some people are too poor to pay for health insurance. Which is true. But the question is, what's the best way to help them? The best way is not to reduce the power of choice for everyone-it's to expand the power of choice to the poor. Consider the way we handle another social problem: hunger. Some Americans don't get enough to eat. But we don't solve that problem by requiring everyone to join huge regional food alliances, where they all eat from the same menu. Instead, the government gives food stamps to the poor so they can make their own choices at the grocery store. This is the model we ought to adopt for health-care reform: We don't want to turn the poor into passive recipients of government largess. We want to empower them to become responsible economic actors. In the health-care debate, we're not just deciding what kind of insurance we want. We're also deciding what kind of society we want. At stake are the principles of a free society. Christians believe that God instituted government for a good purpose: to maintain public order and establish justice. But government goes beyond its divinely appointed purpose when it takes over other spheres of society-when it tries to control the church or the family or the economy. The problem with the Clinton plan is that it would extend the control of the federal government over the health-care industry-a full seventh of the U.S. economy. It's a strategy that runs flat against the principles of a free society. And in practical terms, it just doesn't work. The best way to make health care affordable is to expand the power of everyone to shop and compare-to practice stewardship of the resources God has given us. Just ask Janet Guthrie, who has built a thriving business from getting her customers to shop around for a second opinion.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary