Universal Health Care: A Flawed Proposal

The New Republic has a “by the editors” editorial in the March 20 issue calling on the government to provide “universal health care” (aka, socialized medicine). The piece minces no words, ending on this confident note: “Government isn’t the best way to provide all Americans with health security. It’s the only way. And it’s time for liberalism to say so openly.”

The editorial is wrongheaded in the way the modern New Republic too often tends to be: Inaccurate facts analyzed through an illogical philosophy.

A couple of observations:

* The New Republic editors ignore the elephant in the room by failing to address, even weakly, the failure of the Canadian universal health care/socialized medicine system (see my blog posts here or here, or read this or this), or the waiting lines for care and other health care quality issues afflicting a dozen first world nations with government health care systems. These problems are serious.

* The New Republic was not honest enough to describe conservative health care proposals accurately, preferring to mislead readers into believing conservative proposals would leave people of modest income with a history of cancer or diabetes (and presumably other serious preconditions) without medical insurance:

Enacting the conservative agenda would unravel such arrangements, shifting the burden of paying for care back from the healthy to the sick… Beat cancer? Have your diabetes under control? Well, no matter. The commercial insurance industry still wants nothing to do with you — at least not at a price you can bear.

The right, in other words, has decided the problem with unaffordable health care is that it needs to be more unaffordable, at least for the people who need it most.

Not exactly. Mainstream conservatives support high risk health insurance pools for those who find insurance hard to acquire or exceptionally expensive; various subsidy mechanisms can keep insurance for this group affordable (for more on what conservatives in and out of Congress believe on this issue, I recommend “A Good Start: The House Health Care Reform Bills,” by Edmund F. Haislmaier, Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., and Nina Owcharenko, published by the Heritage Foundation in July 2005).

* “Medicare isn’t only popular. It’s also efficient,” says the New Republic. It doesn’t mention that nearly 30 percent of physicians are refusing to accept new Medicare patients; that hospitals spend a half hour on paperwork for every hour of care delivered under Medicare; that Medicare is insolvent, as it is underfunded by $29 trillion dollars; or that Medicare’s archaic, overly-bureaucratic process for the adoption of new technologies results in needless deaths.

These are not facts that immediately bring to mind the word “efficient” — or even “safe.”

I could go on, but the article isn’t worth it. One on the subject that is can be found here (pdf file); it is a brisk survey of the history and results of socialized medicine worldwide by Canadian economist Pierre Lemieux.

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