John Stossel: Health Insurance Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

In other terrifying news from the poll: "Three-quarters like the idea of expanding Medicare, the government program that covers retirees."

Great, let's bankrupt America even faster! Medicare already has an unfunded liability of $32.1 trillion -- that's how much more money the politicians have promised versus the amount the Treasury has to pay for it. The Medicare Trust Funds report says expenditures "are expected to increase … at a faster pace than either workers' earnings or the economy overall."

Do you think Social Security is going bankrupt? Well, yes, it is. But the Medicare liability is far greater. As more of us live longer, it will get even bigger. Yet the public wants more, and the politicians will probably vote to give it. As P.J. O'Rourke says, "Think medical care is expensive now? Watch how expensive it gets once it's free."

More bad news from the poll: "As far as the cause of higher health costs, the public's biggest suspicion is profiteering by drug and insurance companies -- 50 percent call this one of the single biggest factors. Fraud and waste, the cost of medical malpractice suits and doctors and hospitals making too much money also come in for substantial concern."

Fraud and waste are a concern. When third parties pay, regardless of whether it's government or private insurance, people find it easier and more tempting to cheat. No one spends other people's money as carefully as he spends his own. But "profiteering?" What the heck does that mean? Every company wants to make as much profit as it can. If an insurance company makes "excess" profit, other insurance companies will rush to compete in those areas; therefore prices will fall quickly.

And frankly, I want drug companies to make lots of money. The more they make, the more they invest in drug development that may someday cure my disease or ease my pain.

Finally, the worst news on the poll is that "56 percent support a shift to universal coverage."

Universal coverage sounds so nice -- no worries, no paperwork. Mommy and Daddy, usually in the form of government as single payer and manager, just take care of everything. Universal coverage in Canada and Europe is popular because no one has to worry about paying directly or filling out forms. But like all well-intended schemes of collectivists, it is becoming a cold, bureaucratized machine that does not serve people well.

It takes time for this to happen. At first, the eager government workers are the best and brightest -- they hire medical elites to guide people to the best care. But then civil service arteriolosclerosis sets in. It happens gradually, so people don't immediately notice what they are missing, (it took 70 years for the Soviet Union to fall).

A first sign: the waiting lines. Already, some people in England pull their own teeth because they can't stand the pain while waiting to see a dentist. "The problem is, I cannot suddenly just produce more dentists," said Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he was confronted by an elderly lady who'd pulled out seven of her teeth herself. In Canada, says David Gratzer, author of "The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care," "1.2 million Canadians are actively looking for a family doctor but can't get one because of the chronic shortages. A couple of towns hold annual lotteries with the winners getting to see doctors."

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