American Health Care in Critical Condition

Most everyone agrees, America's health-care system is a mess.

Millions of Americans lack health insurance and still our annual health-care costs exceed $2 trillion — that's about the size of the entire economy of China. For the country with the world's "best" medical care, a lot of people seem unhappy.

Many hate the insurance industry.

Employers have seen insurance premiums rise 87 percent over the last seven years. General Motors now spends more on its employees' health insurance than on steel. Doctors are fed up, too; the average physician's office spends 14 percent of its income filling out paperwork.

No one seems angrier than the patients who have been denied care. Vicki Readling of North Carolina was diagnosed with breast cancer after she had quit her job and lost her employer's insurance. Readling purchased temporary insurance for herself, but when it expired she was told that because of her pre-existing condition — cancer — she would now have to pay $27,000 a year for a new policy. With an income of $60,000 and twin sons in college, she couldn't afford it.

Insurance industry spokeswoman Karen Ignani is eager to report that most people aren't like Readling. Polls show that while people dislike the insurance industry in general, 87 percent of people with health insurance are happy with their coverage. Only 3 percent of health insurance claims are denied, she says.

In his hit documentary "Sicko," Michael Moore focuses on tragic stories of people whose insurance claims have been denied. His prognosis? He calls for "the elimination of private profit-making health insurance companies" and suggests turning over all health-care spending to the government to provide "free" health care to everyone. He goes to countries like Canada and Britain and implies that their socialized systems are far better than that of the United States.

'What It Costs When It's Free'

There are many problems with health insurance, but that doesn't mean we should put the government in control. If it's decided that health care should be paid for with tax dollars, then it's up to the government to decide how that money should be spent. There's only so much money to go around, so the inevitable result is rationing.

It's just the law of supply and demand. Lowering prices increases demand. Lowering the price to nothing pushes demand through the roof. Author P.J. O'Rourke said it best: "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free."

When health care is free, governments deal with all that increased demand by limiting what's available.

The reality of "free" health care is that people wait. In the United Kingdom, one in eight patients waits more than a year for hospital treatment and the British government recently set its goal to keep wait times to less than 18 weeks — that's more than four months! In Canada, almost a million citizens are waiting for necessary surgery and more than a million Canadians can't find a regular doctor. In the small town of Norwood, Ontario, a weekly drawing is held in which a townsperson wins the right to access the town's one family doctor.

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