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Government vs. private medicine
Sometimes the advocates of socialized medicine claim that health care is too important to be left to the market. That’s why some politicians are calling for us to adopt health-care systems such as those in Canada, the United Kingdom and other European nations. But the suggestion we would be better served with more government control doesn’t even pass a simple smell test.
Do we want the government employees who run the troubled Walter Reed Army Medical Center to be in charge of our entire health-care system? Or, would you like the people who deliver our mail to also deliver health-care services? How would you like the people who run the motor vehicles department, the government education system, foreign intelligence and other government agencies to also run our health-care system? After all, they are not motivated by the quest for profits, and that might mean they’re truly wonderful, selfless, caring people.
As for me, I would choose profit-driven people to provide my health-care services, people with motives like those who deliver goods to my supermarket, deliver my overnight mail, produce my computer and software programs, assemble my car and produce a host of other goods and services I use.
There’s absolutely no mystery why our greatest complaints are in the arena of government-delivered services and the fewest in market-delivered services. In the market, there are the ruthless forces of profit, loss and bankruptcy that make producers accountable to us. In the arena of government-delivered services, there’s no such accountability. For example, government schools can go for decades delivering low-quality services, and what’s the result? The people who manage it earn higher pay. It’s nearly impossible to fire the incompetents. And, taxpayers, who support the service, are given higher tax bills.
Our health-care system is hampered by government intervention, and the solution is not more government intervention but less. The tax treatment of health insurance, where premiums are deducted from employees’ pretax income, explains why so many of us rely on our employers to select and pay for health insurance. Since there is a third-party payer, we have little incentive to shop around and wisely use health services.
There are “guaranteed issue” laws that require insurance companies to sell health insurance to any person seeking it. So why not wait until you’re sick before purchasing insurance? Guaranteed issue laws make about as much sense as if you left your house uninsured until you had a fire and then purchased insurance to cover the damage.
Guaranteed issue laws raise insurance premiums for all. Then there are government price controls, such as the Medicaid reimbursement schemes. As a result, an increasing number of doctors are unwilling to treat Medicaid patients.
Before we buy into single-payer health care systems like Canada’s and the United Kingdom‘s, we might want to do a bit of research. The Vancouver, British Columbia, Fraser Institute annually publishes “Waiting Your Turn.” Its 2006 edition gives waiting times, by treatments, from a person’s referral by a general practitioner to treatment by a specialist. The shortest waiting time was for oncology (4.9 weeks). The longest was for orthopedic surgery (40.3 weeks), followed by plastic surgery (35.4 weeks) and neurosurgery (31.7 weeks).
As reported in the June 28 National Center for Policy Analysis’ “Daily Policy Digest,” Britain’s Department of Health recently acknowledged 1 in 8 patients waits more than a year for surgery. France’s failed health-care system resulted in the deaths of 13,000 people, mostly of dehydration, during the heat spell of 2003. Hospitals stopped answering the phones, and ambulance attendants told people to fend for themselves.
I don’t think most Americans would like more socialized medicine in our country. By the way, I have absolutely no problem with people wanting socialism. My problem is when they want to drag me into it.
Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and is an economics professor at George Mason University.
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