Universal Health Care: Universally Bad

Speaking of the pitfalls of socialized, universal, single-payer government-run health care (its advocates keep trying out new names), I recommend the On the Fence Films website to anyone flirting with the notion of supporting the adoption of such a system here.

Over the last month, On the Fence Films has documented a few examples of socialized medicine at work (or, more accurately, not working).

On the Fence covers:

* The sad story of a British man who can’t see because the British National Health care system hasn’t gotten around to removing his cataracts — for three years. (He has a kidney stone, too, and Britain’s “universal” health care system won’t fix that, either.)

* A fellow in Canada who has been waiting eight months (so far) for heart surgery.

* A Canadian with a malignant brain tumor who fled to New York for medical treatment, rather than (most likely) die on a Canadian waiting list. His best friend had died on a waiting list for heart surgery.

* A South African man who dies after “elective” surgery he needed to save his life was cancelled seven times (socialized medicine systems artifically manipulate waiting list statistics to meet bureaucratic benchmarks by scheduling more surgeries than they can accomodate, and then cancel the surgeries at the last minute — at incalulable personal cost to patients). Read the family diary to which On the Fence Films links for a fuller story of what this man and his family suffered.

* Three stories: A Canadian girl whose heart surgery was cancelled; an Australian man who has been on a 90-day waiting list for two years; a couple who had to schedule care for three disabled family members in order for the man to have surgery — which then was cancelled.

I also recommend a short film, “Two Women,” available for viewing on the On the Fence Films website. See who gets treatment when it is up to politicians to decide who gets surgeries — and who does not. One hint: Political correctness plays a role.

Addendum, 5/22/07: A letter from Chris, a doctor and the proprietor of the Single-Payer Blog, where he also posted his letter:

I think trying to bring the most horror stories to the table is not a fruitful way to move the debate on single-payer vs. the status quo forward. Besides, the horror stories attributed to other nation’s systems are trivial compared to the stories about our own. On top of this, once you add the population based problems with our system, there really is no comparison.

I say this as a physician who has always looked favorably on single-payer after a medical school experience in England. Yes, that system had lots of problems, but nowhere near as pervasive nor unfair as our own. As the years have gone by, I have seen so many heart breaking (and infuriating!) situations with our own system, my view has gone from simply favorable to my current view: it is really not acceptable to maintain the status quo.

I am not alone. I am involved in organized medicine on the state level. When I started in 2002 in this capacity, I think the current was then 10-1 (or 2) against single payer. i think that is now perhaps 10 to 3 or 4. Now, mind you, these are leading physicians in my state. These are those who used to be very reliably against anything that smacked of single payer.

I think there are many currents that are drawing physicians along. The injustice of the system that we see every day wears us down. The waste in a system managed by not-for-profit-in-name-only insurers and the true for-profit health plans, pharmaceutical and equipment companies and on and on is unconscionable. The loss of control over the patient-physician relationship could not possibly be worse under the most draconian socialized system, let alone a simple single-payer system. The pay differential among specialists is causing strain. The cost of the system is clearly becoming unsustainable.

There are more, but you get the idea.



I appreciate the letter, but (obviously) disagree about the value of sharing stories about real-life problems government-run health care with an American audience. Americans quite naturally are more familar with problems in our own system than we are with those abroad. Even if we haven’t faced problems ourselves, we see them covered in the domestic press, and railed against by domestic politicians and interst groups. The problems with an often-proposed alternative — government-run care — receive little attention here. What we do is add balance.

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