Monday, July 13, 2009

"States Seek Less Costly Substitutes For Prison" Will We See This Sort of Economizing, Next, In Health Care?

"States Seek Less Costly Substitutes For Prison"--that's the headline in The Washington Post this morning. But we might ask: Less costly for whom?

Can the states save money for their own state budgets by letting prisoners loose? Sure. But what costs are imposed on everyone else? What about the "pain and suffering" visited on the rest of us?

Patrick Tracy Burris, the serial killer who recently terrorized South Carolina had 61 previous arrests in five states. No doubt those states and local authorities saved a lot of money by letting Burris go free 61 times in the past, but just as obviously, Burris' chronic criminality cost the American people untold amounts of psychic damage, as well as monetary damage.

So when you look at the chart above, from the WP article, showing how Texas has been shrinking its prison population, you might ask: Would you feel safer if you lived in Texas?

And so the same with health care. Obviously the government can "save" money by doing less, but what will such "savings" really cost? It's easy for the government, or insurance companies, to simply restrict access to health care; and in the short run at least, the accounting for those savings will accrue to the insurers, public or private. Why? Because the costs of worse health will be felt somewhere else, not on the government's books. But in the long run, the fiscal health of the government depends on the fiscal health of the country. And a fiscally healthy country is a physically healthy country.

Obviously waste, fraud, and abuse must be constantly monitored, but we should beware of quick fiscal fixes that cost us more in the long run.

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