Single-Payer Health Care: A View From The Inside

A Canadian Doctor provides a fascinating, and for anyone who cares about freedom, troubling, inside view of the kind of medical system that Hillary, Barack, and Michael Moore would like to bring to America:

I was once a believer in socialized medicine. As a Canadian, I had soaked up the belief that government-run health care was truly compassionate. What I knew about American health care was unappealing: high expenses and lots of uninsured people.

My health care prejudices crumbled on the way to a medical school class. On a subzero Winnipeg morning in 1997, I cut across the hospital emergency room to shave a few minutes off my frigid commute.

Swinging open the door, I stepped into a nightmare: the ER overflowed with elderly people on stretchers, waiting for admission. Some, it turned out, had waited five days. The air stank with sweat and urine. Right then, I began to reconsider everything that I thought I knew about Canadian health care.

But that’s just the beginning, consider this:

Government researchers now note that more than 1.5 million Ontarians (or 12% of that province’s population) can’t find family physicians. Health officials in one Nova Scotia community actually resorted to a lottery to determine who’d get a doctor’s appointment.

These problems are not unique to Canada — they characterize all government-run health care systems.

Consider the recent British controversy over a cancer patient who tried to get an appointment with a specialist, only to have it canceled — 48 times. More than 1 million Britons must wait for some type of care, with 200,000 in line for longer than six months. In France, the supply of doctors is so limited that during an August 2003 heat wave — when many doctors were on vacation and hospitals were stretched beyond capacity — 15,000 elderly citizens died. Across Europe, state-of-the-art drugs aren’t available. And so on.

And yet, here in the United States, we are being told by the elites that it is the Canadian, and British, and European, health care systems that we need to emulate.

I don’t know about you, but if the cost of government run health care is having to wait for necessary surgery and people dying because there aren’t enough hospital beds, something you never hear of happening in the United States by the way, then I, for one, am not willing to pay the price.

Unfortunately, the media, aided and abetted by the Democratic candidates for President and propagandists like Michael Moore, never tell you about the costs of government run health care. And, they also never tell you about just how good we have it here:

One often-heard argument, voiced by the New York Times’ Paul Krugman and others, is that America lags behind other countries in crude health outcomes. But such outcomes reflect a mosaic of factors, such as diet, lifestyle, drug use and cultural values. It pains me as a doctor to say this, but health care is just one factor in health.

Americans live 75.3 years on average, fewer than Canadians (77.3) or the French (76.6) or the citizens of any Western European nation save Portugal. Health care influences life expectancy, of course. But a life can end because of a murder, a fall or a car accident. Such factors aren’t academic — homicide rates in the U.S. are much higher than in other countries.

In The Business of Health, Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider factor out intentional and unintentional injuries from life-expectancy statistics and find that Americans who don’t die in car crashes or homicides outlive people in any other Western country.

And if we measure a health care system by how well it serves its sick citizens, American medicine excels. Five-year cancer survival rates bear this out. For leukemia, the American survival rate is almost 50%; the European rate is just 35%. Esophageal carcinoma: 12% in the U.S., 6% in Europe. The survival rate for prostate cancer is 81.2% here, yet 61.7% in France and down to 44.3% in England — a striking variation.

Yes, there are plenty of things wrong with health care in America. Most of them, I would submit, are attributable to unnecessary government regulation and the existence of a health-care insurance system, encouraged by tax subsidies, which hides the true cost of much routine health care from consumers. In other words, while America is thankfully far from the socialized mess of Canada, Britain, and Europe, there still isn’t a truly free market in health care in this country.

Until that happens, things will continue to be screwed up.

  • FreedomDemocrat

    Oh come on, the blog post overall is good, but Obama’s not pushing single payer health care and has in fact taken a fair amount of heat from the left for not supporting a mandate like John Edwards.

  • UCrawford

    Obama’s pushing for a national system of socialized medicine, though, and that’ll lead to the same results.

    Doesn’t really matter if his proposal is less socialist than Edwards, the problem is that his proposal is still socialized medicine, and it doesn’t work. Under his plan the rot will just show up slower. So screw Obama and all the heat he’s taken from the leftists…he’s still more like a leftist than a libertarian.

  • Brad Warbiany

    If we *HAD* to have some socialized health care in this country, I’d suggest the Swiss model. I think it’s socialist and it’s actually more free than what we’ve currently got. But our politicians aren’t quite ready for such nuance, it’s a lot easier to just promise people that the government will pay for it all.

    Anyone have a link on that study that shows that when homicide/auto crashes are controlled for, Americans live longer? That’d be a good bit of info to keep at the ready for future debates.

  • TanGeng

    Hey I have great respect for the Swiss model – mostly because I agree with Brad. Instead of consumer welfare which exists under the swiss system, we have corporate welfare.

    Neither are better than a true free market, but looking at the climate of the health care debate, I’d take it over anything resembling the UK or Canada. Or worse France.

    But I have to say that from a cursory glance Obama’s policies look awful.

  • joe thomas

    We need a free market for healthcare!

    People should shop for heart surgery like they do for computers and oil changes. I mean, it’s just common sense.

    While we’re at it, we need to transition the police, firefighters & military to a private fee-for-service system. No more of this USSR-style public service model!

    And if you can’t afford it, you can die. It’s your fault for not making money.

    Fairness is for sissies, communists & Canadians!

  • Malcolm Greenshields

    There seems to be a blogfest in several places by “Canadian” doctors telling the awful truth about single-payer health care systems. Having lived under such a system for a long time, I am shocked and dismayed at the way poor people have come to expect the same health care as the rich. Something has to be done about this indiscriminate medical treatment for all, and Canadian doctors who run to the U.S. to score the big bucks after a relatively inexpensive public medical education are clearly doing it.
    M. Greenshields

  • Fact checking

    “In France, the supply of doctors is so limited that during an August 2003 heat wave, when many doctors were on vacation and hospitals were stretched beyond capacity, 15,000 elderly citizens died.”

    There are more physicians per capita in France than in the US. What was missing in 2003 was a decision by the Minister of Health to start contigency measures (he decided to stay on vacation and said that all the warnings were exaggerations; see Hurricane Katrina for similar behaviour among US presidential appointees), as well as a general disbelief in French society that heat could kill (France has a temperate climate).

  • tarran

    Most countries that practice socialized medicine have more doctors per capita; In the U.S. the supply of doctors is severely limited by state governments at the behest of the doctors union, the AMA.

    It would be like claiming that North Koreans get plenty to eat since they are eating more food than inmates in Auschwitz, to use an extreme example.

    You are correct that the failure of central planning that caused all those unneccessary deaths during that heat wave was due to misallocation of existing resources rather than the failure to invest sufficiently in developing adequate resources.

    Of course, it’s a rum thing that the decision of a civil servant to go on vacation could doom thousands to agonizing and unnecessary deaths with no hope of escape.

  • TanGeng

    LOL. Nicely said, tarran. Government officials have a tendency to be criminally negligent and get away with it.

    That quote about doctors in France is incorrect. There are more doctors, but the supply of doctors is restricted by the state governments. We’re looking for a free market system for health care . We’re against a fascist system that provides welfare for the corporations (HMOs, Hospital Management Corps., or Pharmaceuticals Corps.) or professional guilds (the AMA).

    And in France, when the state pays for education, more people can afford to study and become doctors on tax payer dime. This is one of the many costs of a socialized system that doesn’t get factored into “per capital spending.”

  • UCrawford

    People who wish we had socialized medicine make me wish that Alan B’Stard was real.