Vail Daily column: Health care bills and unintended consequences
May 7, 2017
Unintended consequences are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action. Some unintended consequences are ironic, some are humorous, but unfortunately, they can also be tragic.
For example, at the time of British rule in colonial India the British government was concerned about the number of cobras in Delhi. So the government decided to offer a bounty for these vipers.
Initially, this strategy met with great success and large numbers of venomous snakes were killed for the reward. However, the bounty was set arbitrarily high, and soon enterprising Indians began farming serpents, killing them and then exchanging the skins for their reward.
It turned out that the bounty was a real "budget buster," and the reward program was scrapped. And without a reward for bringing in dead cobras, the "cobra famers" found themselves with a worthless commodity so they took the next logical step and released the venomous serpents — you guessed it, back into the city.
In 2008, the European consortium that makes Airbus made a number of modifications to the design of their new A380. The company wanted to make the plane quieter in an effort to improve their passengers' experience, and they succeeded — almost.
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What the company didn't realize until after a few of these aircraft rolled off the assembly line, was that the cabin was too quiet. In addition to being able to hear the normal talking, coughing, sneezing and, of course, crying babies that occur on all commercial flights, passengers seated near the aircraft's lavatories were hearing "unpleasant sounds" emanating from the restrooms. Airbus reengineered the A380 to add more sound into the cabin and muffle those bathroom noises.
One for the birds
During China's Great Leap Forward, Chairman Mao introduced a new hygiene initiative targeting rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. The latter were considered a pest because they fed on grain, reducing the yields and lessening the amount of food available for the citizenry.
To solve this problem, Mao decreed that the government engage in a nationwide sparrow extermination project. But without the sparrows, locusts, which are a delicacy to our flying friends, began feeding on the crops. By the time the Chairman and the Central Committee realized the mistake, it was too late. Locust swarms had taken over the farming areas of the country, devouring entire crop fields as they went, resulting in mass starvation in many areas in China.
In the Antebellum South, the southern states could easily sell far more cotton than they produced because of the bottleneck that resulted from plucking the cotton fibers from the seed — a dreadfully tedious and slow job.
But when Eli Whitney invented the cotton 'gin (short for engine) it increased the rate cotton could be picked off the seeds 50-fold, making it possible to grow more and more cotton. Consequently, the plantation owners needed even more slaves to pick it.
Unbeknown to most, slavery was actually on the verge of dying out at the time, but with the advent of the cotton gin, cotton and, subsequently, America's "peculiar institution," became even more important to the South's economy.
There have been numerous unintended consequences resulting from the Affordable Care Act, a law that directly affects the personal life of every American and controls or regulates a very complex sector of the American economy.
Not being able to keep your doctor or your plan only scratches the surface of the act's problems. But even those consequences can't really be considered unintended because those limitations were built into the Affordable Care Act's DNA. Besides, as we've subsequently learned, the ACA's designers knew full well that everyone wouldn't be able to keep their doctor or plan, regardless of what we were told prior to its enactment.
That said, it's doubtful the legislators who passed the bill expected the individual mandate to be the enforcement nightmare it's become; nor did they expect the law to create disincentives to work (subsidies drop off as an individual's income rises) or that the act's imposition of so many new costs on businesses would undercut jobs and wages (18 separate tax hikes are included in Obamacare).
But perhaps the biggest unintended consequence was the consolidation of health care markets, thereby reducing the number of participating insurers by a third, resulting in significant premium increases.
Only one way forward
Few question the intent of the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama made absolutely no attempt to bring democrats and republicans together to pass the measure because he had a bulletproof 60-vote Senate and didn't need Republican participation — and we can see the results of the purely partisan legislation.
President Donald Trump wants to repeal and replace Obamacare; and he should be commended for attempting to redress the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act. However, unless he can induce both Republicans and Democrats to embrace the concept of working together, all we're likely to be left with is a different set of unintended consequences.
Quote of the day: "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."—Yiddish proverb.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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