It’s no better here


Obviously, stories like the one you related show that socialized medicine is a bad idea. In this context, it’s worth noting two things: (1) The UK has one of the few truly “socialist” medical systems in the world. (2) Our system is not always much better.

First, the UK’s system–the National Health Service–is truly socialist in that it involves collective (that is, governmental) ownership of nearly all of the means of medical production. (The wealthy do have private insurance.) NHS is a giant integrated corporation that’s the largest collective entity of any sort in all of the EU. This isn’t the general case in the developed world and nobody proposes that the US create anything like it. Good or bad as they are, the systems in countries like Canada, Germany, France, Israel, and Switzerland involve significant degrees of private ownership. In fact, the overall market for health care is likely freer in Israel and Switzerland than it is in the United States.

Second, our system–a public-private hybrid like those in most other countries–is not very free market. Plenty of hospitals, HMOs, and conventional insurers have done things as bad or worse than the worst of the NHS. Government pays about 48 percent of all medical bills in the US and, through S-Chip, Medicaid, and Medicare already covers about half of all children, about 30 percent of all pregnant women, everyone over 65, everyone with end-stage kidney disease and the great majority of people with HIV/AIDS. There’s no free market to defend in the United States. A system more like the one in Israel or Switzerland would actually be an improvement and adopting the Canadian, German, or French models–Obama’s plans are pretty similar to the German model in many respects while Hilary’s looks more “French”–likely would not make things worse than they are now. (By the way, it’s worth noting that none of these countries really manage to provide insurance to absolutely everyone.)