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 # 591  

October 2009




National Health Care Kills, And Insults While It Does It

by Matt Patterson

 

In 1997, Brian Booy of Bristol, U.K. was diagnosed with angina, a chest pain caused by coronary heart disease,1 and told he needed triple bypass surgery.2

Unfortunately for Mr. Booy and his family, he made the grave mistake of getting ill in Great Britain, where government management of the health industry contributes to massive shortages of everything from doctors3 to hospital beds4 and vaccines.5

The result?  Booy waited a year and a half for his lifesaving surgery, which he never received – he died of a massive heart attack in January of 1999.6

Booy's is just one of the many heartbreaking stories featured in "Shattered Lives: 100 Victims of Government Health Care" by Amy Ridenour and Ryan Balis at The National Center for Public Policy Research.  Nor should we assume that Booy's case is anomalous:  According to the BBC, Dr. Peter Wilde, clinical director for the Bristol Royal Infirmary's cardiac unit, admitted that same year that "ten patients may have died because they had to wait too long for operations."7

Why do long waits and shortages result from government control of the health sector?  There are only so many hospitals, only so many doctors.  When government promises that everyone will be treated (ostensibly) gratis, and creates a program to that effect such as Britain's National Health Service,8 it does not simultaneously conjure more doctors into existence.  Rather, the existing pool of doctors is besieged by more patients, who are now likely to seek treatment more often because they perceive it to be free.  The result is long lines, long waits, substandard care. 

But it's worse than that.  Not only does the socialization of medicine fail to produce more doctors, it actually shrinks the pool.  How?  In our free market system, being a good doctor can be substantially pecunious.  This matters, because becoming a good doctor is a long, arduous, expensive proposition – the hope of financial reward later in life is often a significant animating factor when someone decides to endure the years and years of schooling and hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense required to become a practicing MD.  Remove the profit incentive and you are guaranteed to have fewer people choose medicine as a profession.

The free market has been good to our doctors:  General practitioners in the U.S. have almost twice the average monthly net income than their counterparts in the government-run system in Great Britain, according to worldsalaries.org.9  Unfortunately, American doctors see in Britain their future under ObamaCare, a future of increased regulation and taxation coupled with decreased earnings, and are deciding en masse that it may not be worth it:  A September 2009 Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll of practicing physicians found that "hundreds of thousands would think about shutting down their practices or retiring early" if ObamaCare makes it into law.10

Think about that.  Obama promises to expand coverage to every American, but no new doctors will be co-created for this enterprise.  In fact, many doctors are telling us that they will shutter their doors if ObamaCare is enacted.  But at least your medical care will be "free," under the new regime, just like Brian Booy's was - for all the good that did him.

And on top of it all, government will also add its standard bureaucratic idiocy and insult to the medical-care mix:  One year after Booy died from his heart attack, his wife Pat received a letter saying that her husband had at last been given an appointment for his surgery.11

Proponents of government-run health care will tell you that the free market unfairly rations health care by making it unaffordable to some, and that their solution will fix this gross inequity.  But this is fantasy at best, cruel deception at worst.  Resources are always and everywhere necessarily rationed, because resources are always and everywhere finite.  Government control does not fix this – it only makes it worse. 

Just ask the widow Pat Booy.


Matt Patterson is a policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research

 



Footnotes:

1 "Angina Pectoris," American Heart Association, downloaded from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4472 on October 1, 2009.

2 Amy Ridenour, Ryan Balis, Shattered Lives: 100 Victims Of Government Health Care, The National Center For Public Policy Research, 2009,  page 13, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/ShatteredLives.html.

3 Rebecca Smith, "Hospitals Face Doctor Shortage,"  Telegraph (UK), July 23, 2007, downloaded from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1558215/Hospitals-face-doctor-shortage.html on October 1, 2009.

4 Jenny Hope and Nick McDermot, "The Babies Born in Hospital Corridors: Bed Shortage Forces 4,000 Mothers To Give Birth In Lifts, Offices and Hospital Toilets," The Daily Mail (UK), August 26, 2009, downloaded from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1209034/The-babies-born-hospital-corridors-Bed-shortage-forces-4-000-mothers-birth-lifts-offices-hospital-toilets.html on October 1, 2009.

5 "Flu Vaccine In Britain Causes Anxiety," bio-medicine.org, November 23, 2006, downloaded from http://www.bio-medicine.org/medicine-news/Flu-Vaccine-Shortage-In-Britain-Causes-Anxiety-09-16061-1/ on October 1, 2009.

6 Ridenour, Balis, page 14.

7 "Surgery A Year Too Late," BBC News, March 1, 2000, downloaded from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/662651.stm on October 1, 2009.

8 "About The NHS," National Health Service, downloaded from http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/aboutnhs/Pages/About.aspx on October 1, 2009.

9 "UK Average Salaries & Expenditures," worldsalaries.org, downloaded from http://www.worldsalaries.org/uk.shtml on October 1, 2009. "United States Average Salaries & Expenditures," wordsalaries.org, downloaded from http://www.worldsalaries.org/usa.shtml on October 1, 2009.

10 Terry Jones, "45% Of Doctors Would Consider Quitting If Congress Passes Health Care Overhaul," Investor's Business Daily, September 15, 2009, downloaded from http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=506199 on October 1, 2009.

11 "Surgery A Year Too Late," BBC News, March 1, 2000, downloaded from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/662651.stm on October 1, 2009.



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