Why it’s morally wrong to expand Medicaid

Victor Joecks

Why is stealing wrong?

Is it wrong because it’s illegal? Or is stealing wrong because individuals have a God-given or natural right to their own property?

To some people, that’s like asking, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” — in other words, they think the answer is unknowable.

But there’s an essential difference here: Unlike the chicken-and-egg question, we know that our God-given/natural rights precede government — both logically and historically.

As our country’s Declaration of Independence so eloquently states, we are all endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — and “happiness,” to the Founders, steeped as they were in John Locke, included property rights.

Thus, whether you think our rights come from God or from nature, those rights exist prior to and independently of human institutions. Of course, just because you have rights, that doesn’t mean a stronger person or group can’t violate them.

That is why individuals formed governments. The Declaration continues: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Paradoxically, in order to protect individuals’ rights, government had to be given powers — such as taxation and the legal use of force — that are far beyond those appropriate for any individual. And then, to prevent the tyranny that almost inevitably accompanies such power, the Founders placed checks and balances in government, dividing it into three branches, separating its powers and clearly setting limits on government’s authority.

It is in this context that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recent decision to expand Medicaid to able-bodied, childless adults with incomes above the poverty line should be considered.

Numerous negative practical consequences could be cited to justify opposing this move — including the cost of the program and the doctor shortages that even Gov. Sandoval has admitted this will create — but the moral case against this decision deserves special attention.

Stripped away of all the rhetoric and emotion, Gov. Sandoval is endorsing the confiscation of money from both state and federal taxpayers and its redistribution to others — healthy adults in this case — in the form of Medicaid subsidies.

Is not the abuse of government power clear here? The government that our Founding Fathers established to protect the property rights of individuals is now the very entity taking the property of some to give it to others.

Supporters of the Medicaid expansion have argued that this is OK, because the Medicaid expansion will provide short-term benefits for some individuals.

This is an assertion that the ends justify the means. Do they? Consider this question in a different scenario.

Imagine your child’s teacher left a $20 bill on her desk. Would you tell your son or daughter to take it if he or she can think of some “poor person” to give it to?

Of course not. It’s wrong.

What if your child planned to give the $20 to a church or charitable organization? Would you tell your child to take the cash?

I hope not. It’s still wrong, even if you think a charitable contribution is a better use of the money. It’s not your decision to make.

The same thing applies to Medicaid. A well-intentioned use of someone else’s money is morally wrong, because it’s someone else’s money.

And this applies even if that someone is really rich. A rich person doesn’t lose property rights by acquiring more property.

So does this mean that believers in limited, accountable government don’t care about the less fortunate? Not at all. Multiple studies — including one by Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks — reveal that conservatives are far more generous than liberals when it comes to giving away their own money.

What fiscal conservatives also recognize is that providing “free” Medicaid has unintended consequences — including incentivizing staying poor. If the Medicaid expansion is passed, a single adult earning $15,415 a year or less could receive a Medicaid policy worth, according to Cato Institute Scholar Michael Tanner, over $6,000. That means for someone earning $15,000 a year, a $1,000-a-year pay increase would “cost” him $6,000 a year in government benefits.

But that discussion should be secondary to the important principle at stake.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution — consistent with the Declaration of Independence — states that we establish government to “secure the blessings of liberty.”

When government, however, reallocates wealth — taking from those who have earned it and dispensing it to those who have not (but whom politicians favor) — it annuls one of liberty’s key blessings and, thereby, its own justification for existing.

Taking property to which you have no moral claim — even when draped by politicians and special interests in the rhetoric of “doing good” — is wrong. This is what the Medicaid expansion will do.

That’s why it’s morally wrong to expand Medicaid.

Victor Joecks is the communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org. This article first appeared in the January 2013 edition of Nevada Business.