Book Review: “Health Choices and Responsibilities” by Nonoy Oplas
There’s only one free market advocate and economist who comprehensively and objectively tackled and investigated the Philippine’s health care system and the current government health care policies that I know of. The name of this pro-capitalist crusader is Bienvenido “Nonoy” Oplas Jr., head and founder of a free market think tank called Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc.
In his highly informative, thought-provoking book titled “Health Choices and Responsibilities”, Oplas expansively discussed issues and government policies relevant to the country’s current health care system. The book focuses on the controversial Cheaper Medicines Law passed during the term of former president and now congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as on the measure’s negative effects on the pharmaceutical industry, on drug innovation, and on the entire economy.
Oplas discussed in detail the following issues: the Department of Health (DOH) Advisory Council on price regulation, discount cards versus discounted competition, the need to protect intellectual property rights, health politics, price controls, the impact of innovation and competition on drug prices and drug quality, the issue of rights and responsibilities, government intervention and regulations, the hypocrisy and intellectual bankruptcy of the left and pro-government control of the pharmaceutical and health care industry, health insurance monopoly, and the role of free market in drug innovation, competition, and drug quality and prices.
Understanding the country’s health care system and politics requires a rational and objective process of thought. If one is to properly appraise the health care situation in the country, one must not merely look into one particular side of the issue and the immediate, short-range effects of a particular government policy on a given sector. That is, one must understand the ideology and political motivations behind the country’s current and previous health care policies.
In the words of Oplas, the government’s anti-business health care policies and drug price controls were motivated by socialism or populism. This means that the country’s mediocre, populist health care system is the ultimate result of our politicians’ intellectual bankruptcy— or their failure to understand the indisputable link between freedom and economic success.
“It is dangerous to mix liberalism with socialism. Liberalism, in its literal meaning, is to liberate, to free, to remove or limit coercion. Socialism, in its literal meaning, is to socialize, to collectivize, by force and coercion,” the book states.
I am glad to point out that Oplas successfully detected the root cause of the government’s populist health care policies and their unintended consequences. He knows that the country’s health care issue is primarily philosophical and ideological— that it is the ultimate result of the dominant philosophy and ideology that is eating at the core of our government/social system. With this, I am glad that he tackled the concept of rights, because it would be futile to discuss the country’s health care issue without touching this very important concept.
Oplas believes that “health care is first and foremost a personal responsibility and parental responsibility.”
“People should not over-drink, over-smoke, over-eat, over-fight, over-sit in sedentary lifestyle. People should not live in dirty places and should observe basic personal hygiene like washing hands carefully before eating.”
Now it is unfortunate that most of the country’s intellectuals and book authors who tackled health care issues were merely taking on a gigantic strawman when they analyzed what’s wrong with our health care system. At the end of their voluminous, statistics-filled studies, they all proposed the same mediocre solution: government intervention and more populist policies.
This is what separates Oplas’s book from the works of these statist intellectuals.
One of the interesting issues that Mr. Oplas tackled in his book is the “very vocal” opposition of the Philippine Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry (PCPI), which is composed of Filipino-owned companies, of drug price control.
“One will understand if PHAP (Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, which is a composed mostly of multinational pharma manufacturing and trading companies) will oppose drug price control because it is the patented and branded drugs by multinational pharma companies that are most likely to be targeted. One may even assume that PCPI will not object to price control because the products of their members are non-patented and generics. But PCPI leaders were very vocal in opposing drug price control. This is because price control is essentially penalizing success. Any drug that has become popular and highly saleable, whether patented or not, can be a target for price control. Many PCPI members are now good manufacturers, they are capable of producing popular medicines. That ugly state intervention in pricing called MRP will soon hit them.”
Of course, the book won’t be complete without the author’s in-depth yet succinct discussions of patents and intellectual property rights. As a free market economist, Oplas clearly understands the effects of central planning, regulations, price controls, and any form of government intervention on the pharmeceutical industry and the entire economy. He knows that these statist mechanisms would only discourage innovation, limit competition, create cartels and monopolies, punish the people, particularly the poor that the government proposed to serve, and stunt economic growth.
The solution he proposed is diametrically opposed to the dominant propositions and ideas of our government planners and statist intellectuals, which indeed makes his book unique and thought provoking. The book’s proposed solution to the country’s health care problems and poverty is very simple— Free Market Capitalism, which means limited government, free trade, objective rule of law, economic liberalization, sound monetary policy, and protection of individual rights and property rights.
Oplas succinctly describes this solution in the following fashion:
“The proper role of the government therefore, is to encourage more competition among different enterprises and producers, not stifle it. And for government to successfully encourage competition, all it has to do is practically do nothing. Do not over-regulate. Do not bureaucratize. Do not impose high and multiple taxes and fees. Do not intervene anytime for any alibi. Just step back and watch for whoever is doing foul and harmful schemes. Like producing cheap but poisonous food and drinks, cheap but structurally defective houses, cheap but fake and substandard drugs, those resorting to arson and sabotage against competing firms, and so on. People will really appreciate it when government comes in and intervene in cases like these because there is physical harm being done or about to happen to the public.”
If you want to know and understand how your government destroys innovation and competition, and limits the entry of foreign pharmaceutical companies, you ought to get a copy of this book.
This book is now available at Central Books, whose main office and bookstore is located at 927 Quezon Avenue, Phoenix Building, Quezon City.
Soon it will be available at www.divisoria.com too. And the UPSE cooperative store at UP School of Economics, Diliman, Quezon City, also sells it.