Health Care Reform vs. Universal Health Care
President Obama and Congress have now shifted their attention towards health care reform. This subject is critically important to anyone who might need medical care someday -- namely, all Americans. Unfortunately, too many pundits and politicians erroneously equate "health care reform" with government-run "universal health care." Before we rush headlong into any such program, here are three basic facts that Americans should know about universal health care:
1) Government-run "universal health care" leads to rationing
Whenever government attempts to guarantee health care, it must also control its costs. The inevitable result is rationing and waiting lists -- a recurring pattern in countries with government-run medical systems. A Canadian who needs a hip replacement might wait over a year before his surgery. A Canadian breast cancer patient may wait months until the government approves her surgery and chemotherapy. Access to advanced technology such as MRI scans is highly restricted in Canada and the UK, compared with the United States. In those countries, bureaucrats ultimately decide who gets what care and when -- not doctors and patients. In socialized medical systems, health care is never truly a "right" but just another privilege dispensed at the discretion of the government.
2) Health care is not a "right"
Health care is a need, like food and shelter. It's not a right. Rights are freedoms of action (such as the right to free speech), not automatic claims on goods or services that must be produced by another. There is no such thing as a "right" to a house ... or a tonsillectomy. Patients do have the right to seek health care, and doctors have the right to offer it on terms they find mutually acceptable. Attempting to guarantee an alleged "right" to health care necessarily violates these actual rights. If a patient needs care but cannot afford it, he should rely on voluntary charity (which has always been forthcoming from generous Americans), not demand it as a government entitlement.
3) Free-market health care reform can and does work
In the freest sectors of medicine such as LASIK eye surgery, we see the classic pattern of falling prices and rising quality that we take for granted with cell phones and computers. This could be the norm in all of medicine if we adopted free-market reforms. Some examples include allowing patients to purchase insurance across state lines and using Health Savings Accounts for routine expenses. Insurers should be allowed to sell inexpensive, catastrophe-only policies to cover rare but expensive events. States should repeal laws that force insurers to offer (and patients to purchase) unwanted "mandatory benefits" such as in vitro fertilization coverage. Such reforms could reduce insurance costs by over 50% and make insurance available to millions who cannot currently afford it, while respecting individual rights.
According to a recent CNN poll, 8 out of 10 Americans are generally happy with their current health care. But they are legitimately concerned about rising costs. Furthermore, the constant media drumbeat about our health care "crisis" is making most Americans think that everybody else is having a rough time with health care (even if they themselves are doing relatively well). This fuels the false perception that we need drastic change in the form of government-managed "universal health care." In fact, the opposite is true. If Americans are satisfied with their health care quality but unhappy with rising costs, then the proper course is free-market reforms that lower costs, preserve quality, and respect individual rights.
Americans have already been burned by the congressional rush to pass the "stimulus" bill, which many legislators now acknowledge that they didn't even read before voting for. Congress should not make the same mistake by rushing to pass "universal health care" legislation. Instead, Congress should slow down, take a deep breath, and engage in a full, honest discussion about the kinds of genuine reforms we need to actually correct our current problems.
As a practicing physician, I fully support health care reform. This is precisely why I oppose government-run universal health care. Our relatively free market has done a magnificent job in providing us with necessities such as food and shelter. It's time we let it work for health care as well.