More Choices, Less Government Control

Investor's Business Daily

Health Care: John Kerry's first significant speech since he lost to President Bush in November was about medical services. From all indications, he learned nothing from his defeat.

Not that we'd expect him to. Politicians don't often make tectonic position shifts when they've reached a level of national prominence. So Massachusetts' junior senator is as good as stuck with being a proponent of a socialist health-care system.

Kerry, who earlier proposed costly legislation that would supposedly cover 11 million uncovered children, has lots of company.

The political left has agitated for government-run national health care for decades. Canada and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain are held up as the models for the U.S. The basic promise is that everybody gets quality care at no cost.

It's utter nonsense, but so many myths about national health care have seeped into the public debate they've been accepted as fact.
Take, for example, the myth that everyone in countries with socialized medicine has a right to health care. They do not. Nor is health care available on the basis of need with ability to pay being of no consequence.

This is backed up in "Health Care in a Free Society," a new study for the Cato Institute written by John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. In Britain, Goodman points out, "large numbers of patients waited for care (in 2001) while 10,000 private-pay patients . . . received preferential treatment in top NHS hospitals."

All told, Goodman shatters an even dozen myths about national health care.

Think a single-payer (government) system provides high-quality care? Think again. Goodman finds that U.S. doctors spend more time with patients than physicians in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain (see PoliGraph at top of this page).

Americans are also treated with more coronary bypasses and angioplasties, and more dialyses per 100,000 patients, than the British and Canadians. Those nations also lag far behind on access to modern equipment such as CT scanners and MRI units.

The failures of single-payer systems have serious consequences.

Goodman shows that mortality rates for breast cancer (25%) and prostate cancer (19%) are lower in the U.S. than in New Zealand (46% and 30%), the U.K. (46%, 57%), France (35%, 49%), Germany (31%, 44%), Canada (28%, 25%) and Australia (28%, 35%).

Meanwhile, Americans face far shorter waits for surgery than the unfortunate patients of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain.

Advocates of government health care accept these flaws as long as medical coverage is available to all. In other words, it's OK if the system is poor as long as everyone suffers equally. But in practice, it hasn't worked that way in either Canada or Britain.

Goodman notes that disparities in care are described in the British press as a "postcode lottery" in which the odds of getting timely, high-quality treatment depend on the neighborhood or postal code one lives in.

In Canada it's no better. The University of British Columbia found widespread inequality in the 1990s within the province.

Are we to think the system achieves egalitarian perfection in the rest of the commonwealth?

Evidence that the single-payer system should be avoided continues to pile up, and to shift to one would clearly be a step backward.

Goodness knows, U.S. health care isn't perfect. But what Americans need are not fewer choices and less control over medical services, but more choices and more control.

What Kerry and other single-payer advocates refuse to accept is that a free market that fairly and efficiently provides everything from cars to food will do the same for health care.