Recently, business writer David Lazarus penned a column in the Los Angeles Times called “Medicare for Pets—It’s Not as Crazy as You Think.” The column argued for a “Peticare for all” program (I’m not making that up—that’s really what he called it) of mandatory insurance for pets.
Unfortunately for Lazarus, the idea is as exactly as crazy as one might think: Both an impractical and unwise use of government resources. But the fact that he would propose such a concept—and that a major newspaper would devote column inches to the idea—shows how people now expect government to solve their every waking problem.
Why It Wouldn’t Work
After explaining that a comparatively small percentage of pet owners have purchased insurance against their pets’ conditions, and that some of them cannot obtain coverage for all their pets’ ailments due to pre-existing conditions, Lazarus suggests:
California law requires that all dogs over the age of 4 months be vaccinated against rabies and licensed through the local animal care agency. Many cities and counties, including Los Angeles, also require that cats be vaccinated for rabies and licensed. How about if we insure dogs and cats as part of the licensing process?
The proposal raises several obvious problems. First, confining the proposal to cats and dogs could prompt outrage from owners of non-feline, non-canine breeds, like the 9.4 million reptiles kept as pets. The most recent national pet owners’ survey reveals Americans keep more fish as pets (139.3 million) than cats (94.2 million) or dogs (89.7 million). Of course, including more species, particularly exotic ones, could make “Peticare” tougher and costlier to implement.
Pet Licensing Ineffective, So Why Would This Work?
More importantly, Lazarus didn’t mention it—perhaps he didn’t even bother to check—but a simple Google search reveals that, legal requirements notwithstanding, a large percentage of pets remain unlicensed. A 1998 House of Commons Library paper notes that Britain abolished its licensure requirement in 1987, because the license “was held by only around half of dog owners.”
More recent surveys in the United States indicate a similar rate of non-compliance with pet licensure laws. For instance, as of 2014, “98.8 percent of pets living in Richmond,” Virginia’s capital, were unlicensed, even though city code requires dog and cat owners to pay $10 annually for a license. The nearby counties of Henrico and Chesterfield, which require licenses for dogs but not cats, fared little better, with compliance rates of only about 50 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
Britain’s Kennel Club opposes a renewal of that country’s dog licensing laws, because “it is the responsible dog owner who will end up paying a further tax on dog ownership, whilst the irresponsible will continue to flout the law.” Adding an insurance requirement to go with the licensing fee would only compound the incentives for individuals to disobey—and compound the financial punishment inflicted on those law-abiding individuals who comply.
Lazarus’ concept of linking pet insurance to licensure would only work if government officials created a massive (and expensive!) bureaucracy to enforce those requirements. One can easily see how this “nanny state” proposal would cause all sorts of ramifications—neighborhood disputes escalating as someone reports “uninsured” pets to the authorities, for instance. Libertarians have already outlined good reasons to forgo pet licensure, with this proposal to add an insurance requirement merely the latest.
Big Government Has Gone to the Dogs
Apart from the fact that the “Peticare” proposal wouldn’t work, the fact that some people might take it seriously speaks to the desire for government to solve all their problems. Lazarus began his article by telling the story of a woman whose dog could well need a hip replacement, but whose pet insurance policy won’t cover the treatment because it’s a pre-existing condition. The owner asked Lazarus, “If you’re going to have loopholes for pre-existing conditions, why offer insurance at all?”
The question has a simple answer—albeit one the owner likely does not want to hear. If a health condition pre-exists the issuance of the policy, then by definition covering it doesn’t constitute insurance. Insurance consists of protection against an event that could occur in the future but that has not occurred yet. The problem occurs when individuals want “insurance” for conditions they (or in this case, their pets) have already developed.
At the end of the article, the same dog owner endorsed Lazarus’ proposal: “I would happily pay $300 a month if I knew my dog would be covered regardless of any pre-existing conditions.” Of course she would. Lazarus’ story admitted that the hip replacements her dog could need cost “thousands of dollars.” In other words, she will gladly pay a few hundred dollars so she can save a few thousand dollars—not exactly an even exchange.
And that’s the problem: People who want, or worse yet expect, government—meaning someone else—to solve their problems, and give them something for “free.” Lazarus’ “Peticare” represents a more absurd manifestation of that desire, but by no means the only one.
After all, if people didn’t expect something for nothing from the federal government, future generations wouldn’t face the prospect of paying off nearly $23 trillion in debt for things other people got and they won’t.