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

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."

The American public seems to understand that care deteriorates under government control. The ABC poll says that while most people want universal coverage, "far fewer, ranging from 15 to 26 percent, think such coverage would actually improve the quality or cost of their own care, the availability of treatment, or their choice of doctors or hospitals. Indeed by 2-1, people think universal coverage would make the quality of their own care worse, and by better than 2-1 think it would worsen their choice of doctors or hospitals."

It would! It would! The poll writers call the public's attitudes "altruistic." "In a show of altruism, universal coverage is supported by a quarter of those who think the quality of their care and the availability of treatments would worsen."

Is that altruism? I call it an irrational and self-destructive fear of markets and competition.

For-profit medicine has given us vaccines and antibiotics that have extended our lives by decades. I want more! More pills to ease pain, more metal joints to keep me playing sports, more treatments for cancer and cures for heart disease. Socialized medicine slows heath care innovation to a crawl.

Capitalism isn't perfect. It allows inequalities, many of which seem unfair. And capitalism's uncertainties create anxiety. But universal care " creates its own anxieties and inequalities. Perfect isn't one of the choices. Foolish pursuit of free care is the enemy of good care.

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