The health care reform bills in the House and Senate have been at the center of increasingly volatile public debate for months now, and opinions are divided about whether a nationalized health insurance system would be a good thing.
By Linda Orlando
Millions of Americans are living without health insurance, and health costs continue to skyrocket. Health care spending increases are out of control, and health insurance premiums explode every year. So most Americans are growing increasingly concerned about what the future will hold.
Many people believe that the solution is to institute a nationalized health care plan, where the federal government pays for medical care for everyone, and doctors and hospitals are regulated by the government. But the issue of government control is a touchy subject and a slippery slope.
A survey conducted recently by the American Consumer Institute revealed that most Americans oppose the idea of a nationalized health care plan, where the federal government would control physicians and hospitals. According to the survey, 50% of respondents would oppose such a plan, while 43% would support it. More Democrats than Republicans favor a nationalized plan; Hispanics and Blacks are more likely to support a nationalized plan; and affluent consumers are less likely to favor a national health plan as opposed to lower income people. The survey results show that there are wide differences in the opinions of consumers, so policymakers are understandably struggling to reach a consensus on how they can best tackle the important issue of revamping the health care system in the United States.
There are good things and bad things about the idea of a government-run health care system. One of the major pros is rarely considered by the general public, because it is related to commerce, not people. A nationalized health insurance would reduce the costs of insurance for employers who provide insurance to employees. With the current system, employers have to pass those excessive costs along to consumers. As a result, American-made products cost more, consumers pay more, and America’s competition in the global marketplace is compromised. The products manufactured in countries that have nationalized health care systems cost less to make, so they cost less to import.
Nationalized health insurance would benefit American workers, because they would not feel tied to a job solely because of insurance benefits. Employees would feel freer to be mobile, and would be more inclined to start their own businesses or change careers without worrying about losing their health insurance. Health insurance provided by employers is not only costly, it can stifle innovation and ambition.
However, despite the economic benefits, there are significant negative consequences to be considered. The primary drawback is that removing health care providers from the free enterprise system will result in an overall reduction in the quality of health care. Simply put, there will most likely be a sharp decline in the number of college students willing to spend eight years and thousands of dollars to earn a doctoral degree, only to practice medicine for a government wage that they have no control over. The number of high quality doctors will dwindle, and health care overall will suffer.
Numerous studies have shown that the quality of health care in the United States is dramatically higher than in any other country in the world, including nations that have nationalized health insurance. For instance, the mortality rates from breast cancer and prostate cancer are lower in the United States than they are in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia. If the number of quality doctors drops, then the overall quality of health care will surely follow.
Even more worrisome, this system will not ensure that all citizens have equal access to the government health care system. Elderly people in the United Kingdom and Canada have a much harder time obtaining health care than those in the United States. New Zealand’s guidelines provide an excellent example of the risks inherent in letting the government control medical necessity decisions rather than letting people make their own decisions. The guidelines imply that a patient’s age should not be the primary factor in determining their eligibility for treatment of end-stage kidney failure, but they go on to say that in most circumstances, people older than age 75 should not be accepted for treatment under the government plan. Because there are no private dialysis clinics in New Zealand, anyone older than 75 who needs dialysis is unlikely to get it.
New Zealand’s guidelines are just an example; every country with an established nationalized health care system is seeing the unfortunate consequences for citizens who are subject to government control. Germany, Australia, and Sweden are in the process of designing free-market alternatives to their nationalized health systems, in an effort to alleviate some of the problems patients have encountered. These countries and the stories told by disgruntled and desperate citizens should serve as an example to the American government that any solution to providing quality, affordable health care must ensure that patients have at least as much power, if not more, than the government has in making decisions that affect their health and their lives.