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Socialized medicine is not the solution

By Henry Lamb
web posted September 24, 2007

Despite the claims of socialists, Democrats, and many others, there is no "right" to adequate health care. Rights are endowed by the Creator and are limited to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All other so-called rights are manufactured by governments. Governments are not empowered to grant rights; governments can only limit, or extinguish rights. Governments can, however, bestow gifts upon its citizens. But in order to do so, governments must first take resources from those who have earned them, and redistribute those resources to others.
Hillary-care, Obama-care, Edwards-care, and every other form of socialized medicine, is inherently fraught with fraud, abuse, and corruption. What's more, these systems are necessarily designed to reduce the level of service while driving up the costs.

Medicare should be a sufficient example to send all voters running away from any suggestion of getting the federal government any deeper into the health care business. Economists and politicians alike, predict the collapse of the current government-run health care program. It makes no sense at all to even think about expanding government's roll in the medical business.
There is simply no way government can run a health care program that will not end in disaster.

Why? Consider a small, simple real-life example. Patient A has a breathing problem. To qualify for oxygen, his blood-oxygen saturation had to register below a certain level. An oxygen service provider chose a third-party contractor to perform the saturation test. The test consisted of placing a clothes-pin type device on the end of the index finger, and record the number that registered on a small hand-held machine. This was called the pre-stress test. Then the contractor asked the patient to walk back and forth across the room twice, and re-attached the clothes-pin to the index finger and recorded a post-stress number.  This test was repeated the next day, a medicare requirement, according to the contractor.

When the bill for this service arrived, the amount was $245 for each reading. It may have taken five minutes. Medicare paid $110 of the amount, a secondary insurance company was billed for the balance. The insurance company paid $88, and the patient was billed for the remaining $47.

The $47 amount should have been more than sufficient to cover the actual cost of the test, including the time of the tester, and the cost of the equipment, and still provide profit for the contractor. Since medicare has stated in advance that it will pay $110 for this service, the provider is naturally going to get the maximum it can get for the service. Since there is a secondary insurance company involved, the pricing is driven upward in order to get however much the insurance company is willing to pay.

Whether the patient pays the remaining $47, is of little concern to the contractor; he has already made far more money than the service was worth. Magnify this process up through the range of medical services that are provided, and then multiply it by the millions of people who need medical services each day, and it is easy to see why the medicare system is destined for collapse, and why no further expansion of government's involvement should be tolerated.

But everyone is happy. The patient got the service for a cost of $47. The third-party contractor made a day's pay. The oxygen service provider got a new customer, and dozens of people employed to push paper from one end of the country to the other, all kept their jobs.

The system is designed to encourage people to take advantage of the government, the insurance companies, and the patient. This problem is inherent in all socialized medical programs. Presidential candidates, and Congress hopefuls should be thinking in a completely different direction. The goal should be to strengthen free-market principles throughout the health care system, rather than to ignore them.

Competition among the various medical service providers should be the first goal toward strengthening free-market principles. When government guarantees a minimum price, it will be the starting point for pricing. In a free market, the starting point would be whatever the patient can afford. It will outrage the socialists to think that providers might gravitate toward the rich, while the poor might be left to fend for themselves, and therefore, get left without service. This is what led to government's involvement in the first place.

When the nation set out to help those without adequate health care, it took the wrong road; it took the socialist road rather than the free-market road. Now the nation is in a mess. It's not too late to back up and do it right.

In an ideal world, neighbors would help less fortunate citizens meet their health needs, but why should they if government insists on doing it. There are a few good examples of good neighbor health care. St. Jude's Childrens' Hospital in Memphis is supported by private donations and serves many patients who cannot afford the care they receive. This example is replicated, in various scales, in communities throughout the country.

If the federal government is to be involved in health care, it should be looking toward encouraging, and providing incentives for private medical care that is determined between the patient and provider. The problem is complex, and cannot be solved by any government program. Health care is certainly one of the primary areas where the principles of freedom should be observed and advanced. Any candidate, or politician, who thinks government can solve the problem better than a free market, should be rejected. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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