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A national health-care system may be the Holy Grail of American liberalism. If only the government managed medicine, the argument goes, costs could be restrained, quality assured and access extended from the poshest beach house to the humblest shotgun shack.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" last fall, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, advocated a "universal health-care system over the next 10 years." If Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, reaches the Oval Office, she likely would take another crack at socialized medicine, as she did so disastrously in 1994.
Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research sees this model more as a poisoned chalice. Her Washington-based free-market think tank (with which I am a "distinguished fellow") has begun educating Americans on the massive belly flop that is state-sponsored health care. Wherever bureaucrats control medicine, the wise money says: "Don't get sick."
It would be bad enough if national health care merely offered patients low-quality treatment. Even worse, Ms. Ridenour finds, it kills them.
Breast cancer is fatal to 25 percent of its American victims. In Great Britain and New Zealand, both socialized-medicine havens, breast cancer kills 46 percent of women it strikes.
Prostate cancer proves fatal to 19 percent of its American sufferers. In single-payer Canada, the National Center for Policy Analysis reports, this ailment kills 25 percent of such men and eradicates 57 percent of their British counterparts.
After major surgery, a 2003 British study found, 2.5 percent of American patients died in the hospital versus nearly 10 percent of similar Britons. Seriously ill U.S. hospital patients die at one-seventh the pace of those in the U.K.
"In usual circumstances, people over age 75 should not be accepted" for treatment of end-state renal failure, according to New Zealand's official guidelines. Unfortunately, for older Kiwis, government controls kidney dialysis.
According to a Populus survey, 98 percent of Britons want to reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment.
Unlike America's imperfect but more market-driven health-care industry, nationalized systems usually divide patients and caregivers. In America, patients and doctors often make medical decisions and thus demand the best-available diagnostic tools, procedures and drugs. Affordability obviously plays its part, but the fact that most Americans either pay for themselves or carry various levels of insurance guarantees a market whose profits reward medical innovators.
Under socialized medicine, public officials administer a single budget and usually ration care among a population whose sole choice is to take whatever therapies the state monopoly provides.
Medicrats often distribute resources based on politics rather than science. Government doctors and nurses frequently are unionized. As befalls American teachers in government schools, excellence rarely generates additional compensation -- so why excel? Without incentives, such structures eventually breed mediocrity. Patients in universal-care systems get cheated even worse than do students in failing public schools. While their pupils suffer intellectually, politically driven health care jeopardizes patients' lives.
Emily Morely, 57, of Meath Park, Saskatchewan, discovered that cancer had invaded her liver, lungs, pancreas and spine. She also learned she had to wait at least three months to see an oncologist. In Canada, where private medicine is illegal, this could have meant death. However, Mrs. Morely saw a doctor after one month -- once her children alerted Canada's legislature and mounted an international publicity campaign.
James Tyndale, 54, of Cambridge, England, wanted Velcade to stop his bone-marrow cancer. However, the government's so-called "postcode lottery" supplied this drug to some cities, but not Cambridge. The British health service finally relented after complaints from the Tories' shadow health secretary, MP Andrew Lansley.
Edward Atkinson, 75, of Norfolk, England, was deleted from a government hospital's hip-replacement-surgery waiting list after he mailed graphic anti-abortion literature to hospital employees. "We exercised our right to decline treatment to him for anything other than life-threatening conditions," said administrator Ruth May. She claimed her employees objected to Mr. Atkinson's materials. Despite a member of Parliament's pleas, Mr. Atkinson still awaits surgery.
For all its problems, America's more market-friendly health system offers patients better care and would deliver greater advancements if government adopted liability reform, interstate medical insurance sales, unhindered health savings accounts and other pro-market improvements. As for importing universal care, author P.J. O'Rourke said it best: "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free."
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.
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