The sick pursuit of Socialized medicine

David Gratzer:

"I haven't seen 'Sicko,' " says Avril Allen about the new Michael Moore documentary, which advocates socialized medicine for the United States. The film, which has been widely viewed on the Internet, and which will officially open in the U.S. and Canada on Friday, has been getting rave reviews. But Ms. Allen, a lawyer, has no plans to watch it. She's just too busy preparing to file suit against Ontario's provincial government about its health-care system next month.

Her client, Lindsay McCreith, would have had to wait for four months just to get an MRI, and then months more to see a neurologist for his malignant brain tumor. Instead, frustrated and ill, the retired auto-body shop owner traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., for a lifesaving surgery. Now he's suing for the right to opt out of Canada's government-run health care, which he considers dangerous.

Ms. Allen figures the lawsuit has a fighting chance: In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that "access to wait lists is not access to health care," striking down key Quebec laws that prohibited private medicine and private health insurance.

In the U.S., 83 House Democrats voted for a bill in 1993 calling for single-payer health care. That idea collapsed with HillaryCare and since then has existed on the fringes of the debate--winning praise from academics and pressure groups, but remaining largely out of the political discussion. Mr. Moore's documentary intends to change that, exposing millions to his argument that American health care is sick and socialized medicine is the cure.

It's not simply that Mr. Moore is wrong. His grand tour of public health care systems misses the big story: While he prescribes socialism, market-oriented reforms are percolating in cities from Stockholm to Saskatoon.

Mr. Moore goes to London, Ontario, where he notes that not a single patient has waited in the hospital emergency room more than 45 minutes. "It's a fabulous system," a woman explains. In Britain, he tours a hospital where patients marvel at their free care. A patient's husband explains: "It's not America." Humorously, Mr. Moore finds a cashier dispensing money to patients (for transportation). In France, a doctor explains the success of the health-care system with the old Marxist axiom: "You pay according to your means, and you receive according to your needs."

It's compelling material--I know because, born and raised in Canada, I used to believe in government-run health care. Then I was mugged by reality.

...

This problem hit close to home last year: A relative, living in Winnipeg, nearly died of a strangulated bowel while lying on a stretcher for five hours, writhing in pain. To get the needed ultrasound, he was sent by ambulance to another hospital.

In Britain, the Department of Health recently acknowledged that one in eight patients wait more than a year for surgery. Around the time Mr. Moore was putting the finishing touches on his documentary, a hospital in Sutton Coldfield announced its new money-saving linen policy: Housekeeping will no longer change the bed sheets between patients, just turn them over. France's system failed so spectacularly in the summer heat of 2003 that 13,000 people died, largely of dehydration. Hospitals stopped answering the phones and ambulance attendants told people to fend for themselves.

...
The fact is that socialized medicine is a failure. The Canadians have failed to deliver quality medical care despite free riding on the US on the price of drugs where US patients pay for the development costs and Canada comes in picks up its drugs for the marginal cost of production. If the US went with the Canadian system it would mean poorer health care for Americans and more expensive drugs for Canadians.

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