Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care and Markets

The more I look at the health care issue, the more I realize that most of the evidence shows that people are happier and healthier with government provision of basic health care.  I have known for a long time that our system is basically rotten, but I had assumed that the socialized systems had just as many problems.  But this was wrong.  Despite what certain conservative groups say, other countries consistently deliver heath care that is better and cheaper.  Almost everyone who has experienced foreign systems likes them better.

Yes, foreigners have worse survival rates for certain cancers and rare diseases.  Yes, Americans babies born extremely premature have higher survival rates, and different standards for what counts as a live birth make our numbers look worse than they really are.  Yes, our health care system is handicapped by having to deal with the consequences of horrible lifestyle decisions by Americans.  But there are mountains of statistical evidence and personal stories to show that their way is far better at dealing with the majority of medical issues.  Their people are healthier, they spend less money, and they feel much better about the experience.

I support free markets, but I have learned that they have their limits.  The general rule seems to be this: The free market cannot deal with anything that people see as a right.  Markets only work when people are willing and able to make choices, and people will not make rational choices about things that they think they are entitled to.

It would be nice if people did not feel entitled to medical services, but that's not the world we live in.  I think that, at some level, this sense of entitlement means that most people are actually happier with rationing than markets.  It is far better (for most people) to be told 'You can't have this because a panel of government experts have decided that it is not worthwhile' than to be told 'You can't afford it' or 'Your insurance company won't pay for it.'  When the denial comes from what is seen as a fair political process, it is seen as the will of society, so the sense of entitlement goes way and people do not feel cheated.

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