Jewish World Review April 27, 2004 /6 Iyar, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Will we allow HillaryCare to finally take hold? | A huge headline on the front of a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine said more than they intended: "Now Are We Ready to Talk About Health Care?" Inside was an article with the same title by Hillary Clinton.

The casual arrogance of that question is staggering. We talked endlessly about Hillary's proposed government-run medical system a decade ago and decided against it for many reasons. Now this re-run of the same issues proceeds as if the question is whether the rest of us are "ready" to talk about such things.

Senator Clinton parades the usual litany of reasons why the government should run the medical system, beginning with "soaring health costs and millions of uninsured." But, not only does she offer nothing that will actually reduce those costs, she declares that "our mental health delivery system is underfinanced."

In other words, she wants to spend more money on shrinks. Can you imagine what will happen to costs if unverifiable diseases and unverifiable cures provide blank checks to be paid by the taxpayers?

"Universal health care" is a lovely phrase with political resonance in some quarters. But what does it mean concretely?

First of all, since people differ in what they want, nothing can be "universal" without being mandatory. In other words, we are talking about forcing people to belong to whatever program the politicians and bureaucrats come up with, regardless of what the people themselves might prefer.

As for health, it is the end result of many things — diet, exercise, genetics, lifestyle — most of which are beyond the scope of government. What the government can control — doctors, hospitals, medicines — are only part of the equation.

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What the lovely phrase "universal health care" boils down to is politicians and bureaucrats forcing people to get their medical treatment and pharmaceutical drugs the way the politicians and bureaucrats decide.

Somehow, the notion seems to be insinuated that the government can do it cheaper and better. But name three things that the government does cheaper and better than private individuals and organizations. It would be no trick at all to name dozens of things that the government does worse and at higher costs.

How is it going to be cheaper to manage hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical drugs, when it is going to take an army of bureaucrats and tons of red tape to do it? Economists say that there is no free lunch. There is no free red tape either.

Whatever charming visions may be conjured up by political rhetoric, what matters are the hard realities of government-run medical systems. Such systems have existed in many countries around the world. Why not look at what happens in those countries?

How many of those who gush about "universal health care" know that the countries which have it also have waiting times to get treated that are several times as long as people in America wait to see a specialist or get an operation? Waiting not only means longer suffering, it can also mean that a treatable disease can become untreatable — or even fatal — because of the delay.

Britain has had a government-run medical system for about half a century, so it might be a good source of facts — for those who are interested in facts, instead of political rhetoric.

A feature article in London's Daily Mail referred to "our filthy hospitals." The distinguished British magazine The Economist likewise commented on how dirty these hospitals are.

Why? Because British hospitals are so tied up in government rules and union contracts that a nurse has no authority to order the janitorial staff to mop the floor after a patient has vomited. If the nurse wants that floor mopped any time soon, she has to stop taking care of patients and go find a mop to clean it up herself.

Working for a government-run medical system is apparently not all that attractive to Britons who might go into the medical profession. Many of the doctors in Britain are from Third World countries whose medical schools are often substandard.

These are just some of the problems that go with government-run medical systems, whether in Britain or in other countries around the world. But what are mere facts compared to a lovely phrase like "universal health care"?

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)


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