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Government Health Care: Bring a book--or maybe a library

You may remember that it took numerous tantrums, phone calls, emails, and faxes to get my daughter seen in a timely fashion in the government run military health system when she ruptured her ACL last year. Recently, one of my son’s teammates had a knee injury. For months the mother tried to get a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. No luck. Finally, when the physical therapist noted an abnormality the pediatrician following the mother was able to convince them to give her a referral. He might be able to see the orthopedic surgeon within three weeks. Then an MRI could be scheduled which would be another five weeks. Fed up with the system, the parents opted out of the military HMO plan and went with a standard point of service plan. It meant more money out of their pocket, but their child would be seen promptly.

David Gratzer reminds us that this is the primary way governments ration care. And countries that have had government run health care for decades are backing away and embracing private care because the excessive waiting times of government care can be deadly.

Indeed, Canada's provincial governments themselves rely on American medicine. Between 2006 and 2008, Ontario sent more than 160 patients to New York and Michigan for emergency neurosurgery -- described by the Globe and Mail newspaper as "broken necks, burst aneurysms and other types of bleeding in or around the brain."

Only half of ER patients are treated in a timely manner by national and international standards, according to a government study. The physician shortage is so severe that some towns hold lotteries, with the winners gaining access to the local doc.

Overall, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology last year, five-year cancer survival rates are higher in the U.S. than those in Canada. Based on data from the Joint Canada/U.S. Survey of Health (done by Statistics Canada and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics), Americans have greater access to preventive screening tests and have higher treatment rates for chronic illnesses. No wonder: To limit the growth in health spending, governments restrict the supply of health care by rationing it through waiting. The same survey data show, as June and Paul O'Neill note in a paper published in 2007 in the Forum for Health Economics & Policy, that the poor under socialized medicine seem to be less healthy relative to the nonpoor than their American counterparts.

At the end of his article he asks a very pointed question:

In Canada, private-sector health care is growing. Dr. Day estimates that 50,000 people are seen at private clinics every year in British Columbia. According to the New York Times, a private clinic opens at a rate of about one a week across the country. Public-private partnerships, once a taboo topic, are embraced by provincial governments.

In the United Kingdom, where socialized medicine was established after World War II through the National Health Service, the present Labour government has introduced a choice in surgeries by allowing patients to choose among facilities, often including private ones. Even in Sweden, the government has turned over services to the private sector.

Americans need to ask a basic question: Why are they rushing into a system of government-dominated health care when the very countries that have experienced it for so long are backing away?


My dad was in the army when I was born, but not when my sister was (three years later). My mother told me about the stark differences between having a baby with the Army hospital and having one in the private sector. Most universal healthcare supporters have told me how these stories were just silly - anecdotal and not typical - but your blog occasionally reminds me of them. Some very caring people involved, but definitely not the same kind of care and attention that private care affords.

Total incidental sidenote: My mom's OB was in the Army at the same time as my father, then wound up settling in the same town as they did! When she was looking for an OB again three years on, she saw a familiar name and called just to see if it might be someone who knew her OB (or was related). They were delighted to have found each other several states away! So she had the same OB for both deliveries. :)

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