American Health under Fire

Forty-seven million uninsured. An HMO withholding approval to save a dying young woman. One in six dollars spent in America going to health care (1) (notes below), which is 4.3 times more what America spends on national defense (1). Despite that, one in four Americans saying health care is a serious national problem in 2008 (2). Not less than 81% of Americans "dissatisfied" with health care in America (3). The specter of socialism looming as 64% of Americans recently polled say it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage (3).

Let's not exaggerate the problem. The number of uninsured grew from 12 millon in 1989 to where it stands today mostly because of legal and illegal immigration (4), making the uninsured a one-time problem. We all know how Michael Moore gets hysterical. His last movie made much of the fact that Cuba's health care system has a lower infant mortality rate than America's, but undeniably America still leads the world in health care, with the finest hospitals, doctors, professionals, and innovations in the practice of medicine.

Yet it is clear that something must be done. If the trend keeps up, the middle class will have to make extraordinarily difficult kitchen table decisions: cut back on health insurance or food or education. Some large American companies increasingly feel at a disadvantage. They feel they have to pay for their employees' health care, when their foreign competitors do not. Obama supports "single-payer," which is a soft way of talking about socialized medicine (5). An Obama presidency coupled with a Democratic congress would likely mean the end of free market health care in America.

In these shaky times, the political tide in 2008 is dredging up a leftist economic policy. The tide is strongest in health care. Our goal must be to ride this wave to the extent we must, while steering the country into the safe cove of market economics. The free market will not stay free without a fight.

Socialism does not work. I speak as an ex-socialist. It took me years to shake off the blinders and see the light. Socialism could only work if human beings were infinitely flexible, so that if you could imagine it theoretically, it could work in real life. That's where socialism's problem starts. Human nature is not something we can change, as I eventually came to realize. People like to buy and sell what they want. People want to take risks. They want to own a tiny little bit of the world and have it as their own. People want to control their own destiny, and not be told what to do in every aspect of their lives. People want wealth, even just a little wealth, but socialism does not deliver the goods. Socialism has been tried. It has failed. Most dramatically, East Berliners voted with their feet, turning the monicker of "democratic socialism" into a bad joke. With the sole exception of the starvation state of North Korea, every former socialist country in the world now looks to China as their model. The China model, love it or hate it, has nothing to do with state ownership of private property. It has at its core the private ownership of property, and the freedom to buy and sell as you please. Socialism's inevitable failures are costly. Over 100 million lie dead from communist rule. There is no faster way to stifle innovation and destroy the quality of people's lives than to rip people's freedom away from them. The government must let people live their own lives. Socialism slices away human freedom, and so is unacceptable.

The experience of Britain's National Health System, with a country of rotting teeth, antiquated care, and long lines, and of Canada's national system, with the long waits for basic care and Canadians hopping the border for simple medical procedures, tells us more than we need to know.

Socialized medicine, or "single payer," would wreak an untold disaster upon the health and quality of life of Americans. Our country has led the way forward against disease, disability, and injury. Smallpox and polio are all but wiped out. The art of medicine has advanced to an unbelievable degree, with much thanks to Americans. Great institutions of American health care are renowned throughout the world: names like Sloan-Kettering, Mayo, and Johns Hopkins. Socialized medicine will take decisions out of doctors' hands, and prevent them from innovating and providing the best care. Socialism would take the art out of medicine and turn clinics and hospitals into factories. The quality of health care in America depends on patients, doctors, and nurses all being free to be at their best. Expanding government will increase taxes, hurt the economy, and take the freedom out of health care.

Take a look at the list of the Nobel Laureates in Medicine and you will see that there is one country that has dominated that famous prize, especially since World War II, and that country has a free market medical system. Of course, it is the United States of America (6). If we allow socialism to take root in America, there is no telling what damage will eventually be done to medicine and the American way of life. Even if we cast out socialized medicine after only a few years, those years will be lost, and whatever is lost will have to be rebuilt. Our institutions are so valuable and vulnerable, we can't risk throwing it all away for the pipe dream of socialism.

Our health care problem today is a case of market failure. Disease and injury being what they are, people will always need health care, and they won't be in a position to bargain much over the price. The markets for health insurance and health care have broken down. Health care costs have spiraled out of control, and are heading north. The price of health care has grown disproportionately to the quality of care. We must find a way forward to uphold our free market system, resolve this market failure, and keep America great.

This blog will focus exclusively on health care policy. It will argue for a market-oriented approach to health care reform. Free market basics will be stressed like being able to choose whatever doctor you would like no matter what your insurance is, and being able to get health insurance for your family at a decent price. Common sense also matters. Health insurance companies are private companies. They need to have the incentive to minimize costs while maximizing the health and well-being of their insurance customers.

The pressure to adopt socialized medicine is already large, and will grow larger. Obama has hinged his campaign on a promise he can't keep: he says will make our health care system perfect. Americans just might be desperate enough to believe he has a miracle under his sleeve. The trouble is, people don't understand why he is wrong. The voters don't understand the most basic principles of economics: scarcity, and the law of supply and demand. 

McCain must have a savvy response to the health care crisis. The first part of the response is that Republicans care about health care, deeply want all Americans to have access to good health care, and will work hard to achieve that. This is emotional, and comes out of human compassion. The second part of the response is a smart, market-oriented policy to get us there. That's where this blog comes in.

Thank you to for the opportunity to start this blog. I am taking the name of Xenophon here to honor that figure who is associated with a long and successful struggle to survive against great odds.








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