Science does not tell us what we should do. Science can tell us what the consequences will be if we do or do not do some particular thing. Science informs us and our elected representatives, but science does not dictate what the political policy should be.
Almost every decision involves some kind of trade-off. Often, the trade-off is between safety and liberty. For example, most driving and traffic regulations involve giving up some amount of liberty in return for greater safety.
In the case of Covid-19, the use of vaccines, masks, business closings, etc. is a trade-off between safety and liberty. If you say that a Covid-19 related policy is justified if it saves even one life, then you would have a problem. The vaccine has clearly saved many lives, but some people have died from the vaccine as well. It is not as simple as choosing the one that saves the most lives. Almost everyone who wants to take the vaccine can take it. The majority of adults have already chosen to get the vaccine. The relatively few who are compromised in some way and, therefore, are advised against getting the vaccine can do a lot to protect themselves against those who might be contagious.
As a libertarian, I believe that private business owners, just like homeowners and individuals, should be free to choose whether or not to associate with those who are not vaccinated. Government, on the other hand, should really not be able to discriminate based on vaccine status in most situations because we citizens don’t really have the option to “opt-out” of dealing with the government. There may be some situations or circumstances where a vaccine mandate by the government might be appropriate, but the default position should be liberty, with the burden on the government to show why the mandate outweighs the loss of freedom. Ultimately, the decisions will be made by our elected representatives. And as we all know, there is a wide difference of opinion about vaccine mandates among our elected representatives as well as among we citizens.
It was like a breath of fresh air to read in The Des Moines Register that our Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, used logic in concluding that banning vaping by adults in Iowa would be a mistake. (See link to Register article below.) It does appear clear that almost all of recently rreported deaths and severe illnesses were the result of vaping black market products that contain THC, not nicotine.
While it may be true that no amount of vaped nicotine has been proven safe, we do know that vaping popular legal nicotine products has been going on for years without the type of health problems that have been reported recently. We also know that nicotine vape products do not contain the tars and other substances in cigarettes that are known to cause cancer.
It’s reasonable to think that vaping nicotine is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and that going from smoking cigarettes to vaping can be a good step towards quiting a nicotine habit altogether. But, prohibition of vaping would only worsen the health problems, just like with opioids, where people who purchase their drugs on the street have no idea of the strength or purity of the products they are buying.
The Des Moines Register recently published a report about Madison County Boar of Supervisors considering a requirement that wind turbines be setback 1.5 miles from the nearest home. Ben Johnson, a cardiologist who lives in Madison County was quoted as saying, “Industrial wind turbines have never been proven to be safe, nor free of adverse health effects,”
It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove that anything is safe or free of adverse health effects. For example, driving or riding in a car at any speed has never been proven to be safe. No amount of second-hand barbeque smoke has been proven safe. Eating chocolate has never been proven free of adverse health effects. We live in a risky world. It would be impossible to live our lives if we were prohibited from doing anything that was not proven safe or free from adverse health effects.
We should not have policies that prohibit things until they are proven safe or free of adverse health effects. Unless something is proven to be unreasonably dangerous, it should be allowed.
The Iowa Legislature made the correct decision when they passed the bill that prohibited Medicaid from covering gender transition surgery. One the one hand, it is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. On the other hand, that does not mean Medicaid or any other insurance should be required by law to cover gender transition surgery. Proponents of requiring such coverage say that it is medically necessary because of the mental distress that gender dysphoria may cause. But, cosmetic surgery of any type has not been required to be covered just because a person feels bad about the way they look physically.
I’m sure some people feel great mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean Medicaid (taxpayers) or other health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. Requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the makes the cost unaffordable to almost everyone. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
As reported in the Des Moines Register, a jury recently found the State of Iowa guilty of illegal discrimination against a transgender man. He had not been allowed to use the men’s bathroom or locker room, and he had been denied health insurance coverage for gender re-assignment surgery. (See link below to Register article.)
It is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. But refusal by government or private employers to cover gender reassignment surgery under their health insurance plans should not be considered wrongful discrimination, unless the plans cover other types of cosmetic procedures for people who feel similar dysphoria. People may feel mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. We have already seen that requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the premiums unaffordable for many people. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
Thanks to Susan Voss for her thoughtful essay about the complexities of our health care system, and how difficult it is to reduce costs. (See link to Register essay below.) I don’t claim to have “the answer”, but I do suggest that the following cost saving ideas be given serious consideration.
Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance should not be required to cover every new drug, product, or procedure that is approved by the FDA. Some are very high cost but provide only marginal improvement over alternatives that cost much less. Also, at least some covered products and procedures would likely be considered not medically necessary by most people.
Consider shortening the amount of time that government grants a monopoly for patents. Patents are not natural property: humans have copied one another since the beginning of time. Our U.S. Constitution allows patents to be granted to encourage inventiveness, but there is no objective reason why a patent must be granted for 20 years. Why won’t five or ten years work? Maybe the length of the patent should be based on the cost to develop the patented item and whether or not government funds were used to help develop the item.
Don’t require limits on out-of-pocket payments such as co-payments, especially for very high cost items. A person should have “skin-in-the-game” if they expect their insurance to cover very high cost items. Today, we see the opposite: drug companies offer to help pay people’s out-of-pocket costs so there won’t be so much political pressure on them to lower their prices.
Allow both pharmacies and individuals to purchase drugs from sellers in other countries that are “deemed” to have sufficient safety procedures in place. If drug companies are free to charge lower prices in other countries, then pharmacies and individuals should be free to purchase the drugs from those other countries.
Allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with drug companies on prices they pay for the drugs that are covered by the programs. Right along with that, Medicare and Medicaid should be allowed to develop formularies (lists of drugs that are preferred over other therapeutically similar drugs), that give beneficiaries a financial incentive to use the preferred drugs and a penalty for using higher cost drugs.
Our health care wants are unlimited. Our ability to pay is not. We, as citizens, should not expect private insurance or our government health care programs to cover everything, regardless of cost. We should expect our government to NOT do things that increase costs, or reduce our choices.
The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers. (See link to Register article below.) Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis. There is no cost to the counties. If successful, the “Lawyers will be awarded a portion of the settlement, …” (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)
What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse. When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want. If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids. That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids. (See CDC reference below.) A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs. In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.
If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented. That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade. If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem. But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.
A transgendered person should be eligible to serve in the military, just like just like every other man or women, and just like every other gay or straight person. If they are qualified to do the job, then government should not discriminate against them based on their transgendered status. That does not mean the military or taxpayers should foot the bill for sex change operations. Just as being transgendered is not a disease, surgery to to change a person’s sex is not a medical necessity. Transgendered folks will can be completely healthy without a sex change operation. So, sex change operations should be considered elective, and not be required to be covered by any insurance plan, including that of the military.
It is a proper role of government to regulate activities on public property. But, it is unfair that West Des Moines has banned both smoking and vaping in their public parks. There may be no safe level of second hand smoke or nicotine vaper, but there is also no safe level of car exhaust, or camp fire or barbecue grill fumes, but we don’t ban them. Life is not risk free. And really, isn’t it pretty easy for anyone who happens to be down wind from a smoker or vaper to avoid the situation by simply moving a little bit? Smokers and vapers pay taxes that fund public parks just like everyone else. This is simply a case of an intolerant majority oppressing an out-of-favor minority. I hope that other municipalities will not follow suit. p.s. – I don’t smoke or vape.
The Des Moines Register recently reported that the University of Iowa (UI) has decided to implement a policy next Fall to prohibit all forms of tobacco anywhere on its campus. (See link below to Register article.) UI already has a policy that prohibits all smoking on campus. The new policy would extend the ban to all forms of nicotine, including vapor and chewing tobacco. The new policy will apply to students, faculty, staff and visitors. It covers all university buildings and vehicles, plus all outdoor areas controlled by UI. UI is a government institution, and it is proper for governments to prohibit smoking inside or near entrances to government owned buildings because of the risks associated with second hand smoke. For the same reason, it also seems proper to prohibit nicotine vapor inside government buildings. But, smoking outside should not be prohibited. Our air is not and has never been perfectly pure. I would guess that automobiles, forest fires, power plants and volcanoes each put much more harmful pollution into our outdoor air than tobacco smokers. Even worse, prohibiting smokeless (chewing) tobacco is just mean spirited. It is not the proper role for government to prohibit us from legal activities that clearly harm no one other than ourselves. Living involves risks. As a person who does not use tobacco in any form, I have decided to not take those risks. But people who do no harm to others should be free to decide what risks they take with their lives, and neither I, nor any majority, should be able to force our decisions upon them.
Link to article: http://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/local/2015/04/07/university-iowa-go-tobacco-free/25420109/