Sunday, September 03, 2006


After marching in the hot desert for weeks without access to water other than for drinking and cooking, the leader of the troops stood before his men and made the following announcement.

“Men, I have good news, and I have bad news. The desert heat has taken its' toll on us. We are tired. We stink. We are all looking for a change. Therefore I am pleased to announce everyone get’s a change of underwear.”

A roar goes up from the crowd.

“Now the bad news. Fred, you change with Bill. Tom, you change with Harry . . .”

No matter how bad things may be, it could always be worse.

One of the cries we hear often about the “health care crisis” in the U.S. is the call for universal health care. The California legislature has passed a bill (BS 840) that calls for a form of universal health care financed with taxpayer dollars. It currently awaits the governor’s signature, which he is expected to veto.

Some support the measure. Others say it will never work.

I found this article which points to an interesting dilemma. Will anyone ever be happy with what they have?

polls show that more than 60 percent of Americans favor some kind of universal government health care.

OK, but what about those who currently have taxpayer funded, universal care?

In Canada waiting lines for many medical procedures are legendary. Last year, lawyers in Quebec filed a class action suit on behalf of 10,000 breast cancer patients who contend they had to wait too long for radiotherapy. The story is the much the same for Britain's National Health Service where more than 800,000 patients are waiting for NHS operations.

So what does this mean?

A 2001 poll of Britons found that 40 percent would consider opting for private health care. In a 2004 poll, 51 percent of Canadians said that they would support the creation of a private health care system parallel to the government health care system.

So 60 per cent of Americans want what Brit's have, while 40% of Brit's, and 51% of Candadians want what we have.

If taxpayer funded health care works so well, why is this happening?

The first crack in the Canadian provincial monopolies that banned almost all private health care opened last week when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that private health care was a constitutional right of Canadian citizens. And in Britain the NHS is increasingly contracting out to private providers for surgeries, MRI scans, and radiology treatments in order to cut its monumental waiting lists.

And is there a downside to private sector health care?

"[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt."

Which suggests the following thought experiment—what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago.

And then there is this remaining question.

As Rogoff suggests, the nationalized health care systems extolled by progressives have been living off the innovations developed by the "only country without a universal health care system." I wonder how Americans would vote if they were asked if they would be happy freezing medical care at 2005 levels forever?

"Yanks, you change with Brit's. Frog's, you change with Canuck's . . ."
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