Drop Anchor

We are in a series outlining the big ideas that would serve as the foundation for Tim’s proposed healthcare reform plan.  Click here to find the prior posts.

As a psychology major, it has been good to see some ideas from our field drift into the general public consciousness.  That the rest of you can’t come up with much past Freud and weird relationships with your mother is a bit annoying to us, but now I am just projecting.

One idea that has gotten a lot of play lately through the sub-specialty of ‘behavioral economics’ (yes, yes, we had to partner up with the money people to get any respect…fine, we sold out) is the idea of ‘anchoring.’  This is the flaw in our noggin that places too much importance on the first piece of information we receive, the anchor, in our decision making process.

If I start by telling you the widget cost $10, but then offer it to you for $8, the anchor of $10 makes you fixate on the 20% discount, even if you later find out this widget should really cost about $6.  Sleazy salesmen read psychology books.  Surprise.

Today, I want to see if I can dislodge an anchor that got set deep and early in conservative minds in response to the ‘individual mandate’ feature of ObamaCare.  Some brilliant operative immediately framed this as, ‘The government has no right to force you to buy a product if you don’t want to buy it.’  In this case, the product was, of course, health insurance.

As a psychological anchor, it was beautifully effective because it went right to the heart of the conservative value of personal freedom.

At one level, I get and support the argument, but this was not the first time the ‘government forced us to buy a product.’  In almost every state, you have to carry auto insurance of some kind – maybe just to pay the health bills of the dude you hit, maybe you also have to fix his car, maybe you even have to even insure your own injury bills.

Notice both – health and auto – are in the insurance category.  In both situations society is effectively saying, ‘Hey, since we’re all pretty financially interconnected here, you don’t get to go screwing up things for someone else without having a way to pay your freight.’

I know the parallels are not perfect, but they are salient, which is why I never understood the angle of the conservative argument against requiring, one way or another, everyone to have at least a minimal level of health insurance.  Readers here, more than most, know how making up for uncompensated care jacks with true market prices.  And we know people without insurance make dumb decisions about their healthcare.

Since some of us are helping pay for others of us (you’ve accepted this reality, right?), let’s be as smart as possible about how we do it.  Requiring everyone to have coverage just makes sense.

Now my liberal friends, before you get whiplash nodding vigorously, come back next time and we’ll finish this discussion…you won’t like me as much Wednesday as you do now.


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Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog three times a week about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.

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