Doug, I think you’re partly wrong


The situation you describe in the UK here is outrageous however one looks at it. Indeed, it provides a strong case why the United States should not switch to the type of single-provider health care system that exists under the UK’s National Health Service. But I’d take issue with your conclusion:

But turning the entire system over to government ensures that Americans will lack the health care they need and will end up paying a lot more for whatever care the government deigns to provide.

For at least two reasons, I don’t think this makes sense.

First, nobody in political power with any say over such matters has proposed a total government takeover of the health care system. The proposals from President-elect Obama, Senators Wyden, Baucus, Alexander, and Kennedy all just re-jigger the current mixed public private system we have today. Nobody proposes a takeover. The public-private nature of our health care system is the norm in the developed world. Our system involves more government control than some other system elsewhere in the developed world–Switzerland, Singapore, arguably France–is quite similar to others–Germany–and somewhat freer than others–Canada, Japan, and the UK.
Second, because they (in order of importance) exert more monosonopoly power, ration care that is needed, and do a better job of denying public funding for care that isn’t needed, health care systems in all other countries cost a smaller percentage of the GDP than ours does. Most other systems involve fewer out-of-pocket payments. (Although people pay about the same out of pocket in France and slightly more in Switzerland.)
Bottom line: if saving money is our primary objective, we should go to the single-provider systems like those that exist in the UK and Japan. Because they force down the wages of everyone in the medical system and control the prices of medical supplies, fully-government-controlled systems are the least expensive by every measure. If one considers health care a burden rather than an economic engine, then it follows that government control and rationing solves problems. That’s why libertarians are wrong when they complain about health care costs. A significantly more free market health care system could very well cost more than the health care system we have now. And that might be a good thing.