Universal Coverage: Nothing to Fear

Whether one has to wait for medical care or not turns more on how much a country spends on health care or how health-care delivery is organized than on whether or not health care is publicly financed.

Many Americans also worry that universal health care means losing the freedom of choice of provider -- as if you no longer could choose your doctor, but someone else told you where to get care.

But that also isn't a real problem in other countries that have universal health care.

Germans, and Japanese, and Canadians can in general freely choose their own doctor, unlike many Americans in managed-care plans.

Some other countries have "gatekeeper" systems that limit access to specialists, but many countries allow direct access to specialists as well as to primary-care physicians.

Americans like to think of themselves as a resourceful, creative people.

If other countries can make health care available to all their residents while spending less than we do, and yet do so without wait lists and without limiting the availability of useful technology, why cannot we?

Timothy Stoltzfus Jost is the Robert L. Willett professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

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