04 July 2006

Consumer Report: Socialized Medicine

Growing up in Canada, I was oblivious to the fact that there were alternatives to many of the government programs that were an integral part of life. Government medical care was one such service. As I child I had little need for medical care, except when I broke bones or such similar childhood mishaps, which wasn't often. Such minor problems were quickly and cheerfully treated. As I grew older and more aware, I witnessed friends receive contaminated blood because the Canadian government had decided to save money by not testing for HIV and Hepatitis long after blood screening was systematic. Later, I visited Cuba to discover first hand that many basic ailments - including broken limbs - sometimes involve weeks of waiting lists to receive treatment, often without painkillers. Here in the UK, I had multiple first- and second-hand experiences where basic care was appalling. On one occasion, for example, the admitting nurse in the emergency ward perfunctorily asked me to wait while she sat and ate a sandwich for half an hour while I writhed in pain before her - before admitting me or even asking me why I had come to the emergency room. In the UK, it is not uncommon to wait for months, even years to receive an MRI and subsequent surgury or treatment. In the US, such waiting lists would be considered inhumane.

For those who consciously choose to live under socialized medicine, I can respect the trade-offs that they implicitly accept with that decision. If every one is to receive free care, then it must be rationed as there are limited resources. They are effectively accepting mediocre universal health insurance with premiums paid indirectly and disproportionately through taxation instead of having the option of choosing their own insurance provider. My concern lies rather with those who criticize private medical systems, even ones that are becomingly increasingly socialized and regulated like that of the USA. For all of its imperfections, I have received more prompt, friendly and effective service in the US under private insurance than I have experienced under various socialized systems.

True Poverty = Starvation

There is some confusion regarding definitions used in discussing poverty in industrialized countries. Proponents of minimum wage laws and welfare refer to the number of people considered to be "in poverty" based on some arbitrary definition of a poverty line. Aside from discussing whether their proposed policies help or hinder "the poor" - usually, legislation to help the poor has quite the opposite effect of its intent - I take issue with the basic definition of poverty.

Poverty is fundamentally a question of basic human needs. Truly poor people are not obese, they're under-nourished. In America, like most industrialized country, there are relatively few who are truly poor. The very fact that there are so few truly poor people in countries which have better-defined property rights and more capitalism is itself a strong hint as to the true solution to poverty (http://fte.org/capitalism/introduction/). While it is not uncommon to hear disparaging comments about the alarming degree of poverty in America - including rising obesity - I would entreat such commentators to remember that the poor do not include the fat.