Healthy praise for the right to discriminate

My wife and I stopped paying for health insurance a few months after her father died following an operation for oesophageal cancer. Now I have a dream: a health insurance scheme for people who care about their health.

My father-in-law had paid for hospital cover for himself and his family for years, yet he was in the same ward, seeing the same doctors, eating the same (vile) food as public patients. Those lucky enough to go home had nothing to pay. My mother-in-law was faced with bills for fat ‘gap’ payments, on top of trying to find the money to pay for her husband’s funeral.

Stuff that! Why would anyone bother? Recent television commercials for health insurance schemes have confirmed us in our decision. These are the ads which gushingly describe how ‘you don’t need to be sick to benefit’ from schemes which offer to pay for relaxation therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy.

The scheme I have in mind would not be available to smokers, heavy drinkers, people who practise unsafe sex, intravenous drug users, sky-divers, motorcyclists or the obese. It would not cover back pain, the best solution to back pain generally being to take a couple of aspirin, stop whining and get back to work. It would not cover pregnancy, which is not an unforeseen illness or injury.

I couldn’t care less if people want to stuff doughnuts down their throats all day, have sex with multiple partners in public toilets, marry their pet dolphins or smoke two cartons of cigarettes a week. For that matter, I really can’t see why some bars and other businesses cannot be ‘smoker friendly.’ No one is going to force people who don’t like smoke to go into them.

What I do object to is being told I have to pay for the consequences of other peoples’ choices.

I am happy, for example, if people spend their money on lotto tickets and beer. But I am not happy to be told that those same exponents of self-indulgence are under-privileged and that I must pay for their dental care. I am happy for parents to keep buying their children the latest sneakers instead of computers, but not when those same parents, or the government on their behalf, demand that I dig into my own pocket to pay for those computers.

That is one of the reasons I have never paid for car insurance. Car insurance is a scam in which good drivers subsidise bad drivers, and support a well-paid bureaucracy at the same time. I have been driving now for 35 years and have never had an accident. Perhaps knowing I am not insured makes me a little more careful. Perhaps knowing I have no health insurance also makes me a little more careful.

So I want, and would happily pay to belong to, a health insurance scheme for people who are mindful of their health and choose to act in healthy ways. Obviously, that scheme would not pay for aromatherapy or naturopathy or any other non-treatments favoured by idiots and the medically gullible. The cost of such a scheme, by my reckoning, would be approximately half of those now on offer.

Alas, such a plan would never be permitted. It is discriminatory. Well, duh. Of course it is discriminatory! That’s the idea. What is wrong with being discriminating? What is wrong with a health insurance scheme targeted for any group of people whatever? Smokers could get together and form their own. Expectant couples (or expecting to be expectant couples), who would rather someone else paid their medical bills, could do the same.

That wouldn’t work, of course. If the low-risk people had their own scheme, and the high-risk or known-risk (as in pregnancy) people had theirs, the premiums for the latter would have to be much higher. That would be entirely fair and reasonable. Consequently, it is unthinkable. Subscribers only join health insurance schemes because they think such schemes will save them money. But people in high-risk groups can only save money if they are being extensively subsidised by everyone else.

Such schemes — and take that to mean every health insurance plan in Australia — penalise those of us who plan ahead, who are careful about their health, who make sensible decisions, who take responsibility. We are forced to pay the medical expenses of people who don’t. By expecting that this be done, and claiming discrimination if it isn’t, smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese, and members of other high-risk groups are demanding the government take our money and give it to them.

Isn’t that discriminatory?

Peter Wales is a former Anglican clergyman who now runs an IT consultancy business on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

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