Why Are We So Afraid of Socialized Medicine?

January 29th, 2008

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, so time to put down some thoughts.

First, what is socialized medicine? If we listen to the politicians that label health care as “socialized”, it seems to be “anything that is paid for by taxes and delivered free or cheaply to citizens.” Putting aside the question of whether that meets the academic definition of socialism for the moment, let’s look at things in the United States that are already socialized:

  • K-12 education
  • Police
  • Fire fighters
  • Public Libraries
  • Roads
  • Airports and air traffic control
  • Military defense and offense

That’s right. We trust the government with our children all day long for 13 years. For free!

Yet this is a country in which hospitals dump the homeless in the gutter for being unable to pay their bills. Even insured Americans find claims turned down for arbitrary reasons. People are afraid to change jobs for fear of losing health insurance.

Why is it bad to have the government pay for health care?

Here in the United States, our health care system is far from best in the world. It’s not even top 10. Or 20. Our system encourages minimizing health care, and doesn’t encourage preventative care.

I’d suggest that, in a democracy, it’s best to have the government pay for health care. That’s because, in a democracy, we are in control of the bureaucrats. If we wish to exercise common sense and pound into their heads that paying for preventative care makes good long-term sense, then we can do so at the ballot box.

So why the scare tactics about government being involved in health care?

Perhaps our real problem is that we have let government get out of our control? Perhaps we are too frightened of change to vote. Perhaps we’ve given up on a responsive government. Perhaps we think that the insurance companies and drug companies will never let us have a good health care system.

Yes, the lobbyists have a lot of power. But we have the power to remove it, and it’s high time we used it.

The audacity of Obama to have hope. To say that we can do better. When Hillary Clinton falls in line with the Republicans and accuses him of having “false hope”, effectively saying that we can’t do any better, then is she — or any Republicans — really a candidate of change? I think that all these accusations from conservatives and Hillary that Obama has “false hope” has finally convinced me that he’s the one to vote for. If everyone else claims that his ideas are too good, that his dreams too big, then I like him.

Oh, and you could substitute “college education” for “socialized medicine” everywhere in this article and get equally valid arguments.

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  1. Ari

    Don’t forget public transportation. But including that in the list doesn’t change the fact that a large chunk of those are mostly handled at the state and municipality level, not federal.

    It’s funny that if you include subways in that list, Massachusetts was the first in the US for 4 out of the 8 items. Yet in a state with such a long history of “socialized” services, the MA law that made health insurance mandatory for adults benefits the insurance companies more than the people. That doesn’t exactly give me hope for change in a country as a whole that thinks “social” is a dirty word.

    Reply

  2. Kevin Mark

    I’d be happy if we could get a single payer system to at least streamline the paperwork and not have to drop and add a provider with job changes. Would water supply be in that list, at least in some states? National parks? Amtrack? Also Obama mentions ‘net neutrality’ and other tech issue on his site, Which is more than other canidates. Not that any candidate is in anyway obligated to keep a single promise.

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  3. Anonymous

    First of all, your argument states the things we currently have socialized. It thus fails to convince anyone who believes, as I do, that the government has neither the right nor the ability to perform some of these services. In particular, you highlight the K-12 educational system as a supposed success of socialized systems. Having experienced that system for a few years, I consider myself fortunate to have escaped from it before it did permanent damage. I have *seen* that system grind every shred of curiosity and scientific thinking out of most children. As far as I can tell, it “works” only for those children who luck upon a series of teachers and faculty who don’t suck quite as bad as the norm.

    Of the services you mention, I only consider it acceptable to permit the government to handle police, military, fire service, and roads. Of those, the latter two should remain socialized only as long as it takes to find suitable replacements. I also believe we would do better with military needs handled through cooperation between states, but I don’t care much about that issue compared to any of the others.

    (I do not consider myself an anarchist, and do not subscribe to the notion of privatized police or laws.)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    In a democracy, the government ultimately has a right to do that which the people choose for it to do. I find arguments about whether government has the right to do things rather funny, unless we are talking narrowly about rights of government agencies under current law. Whether the government *ought* to do things is a different question.

    In terms of education, sure there are good schools and bad schools. But nobody is proposing eliminating government funding of K-12 education, are they? The farthest that people will go is *expanding* government funding to cover non-government-owned schools.

    Reply

  4. cliff

    This article–
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/catosletter/catosletterv3n1.pdf
    And the fact that I have lived thru life threatening cancer and did it only because I live where I live. The U.S. Will explain my position.
    Any one who believes what B.O. believes scares me to death.
    Also the premise that we can just take more money from rich people to pay for ‘stuff’ will just lead us down the path to ruin. First of all we will run out of employers. The free market system always works until it is regulated by a governmet. It will also lead to A society content to sit and wait for the ‘government’ for their very existence instead of working and trying to help themselves. (i.e. New Orleans and the Ray Nagins of the world and pliticians of his ilk for example)
    Other than that I agree with you.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I read the first few pages of that report. The Cato institute is unfortunately not a terribly unbiased organization.

    I haven’t looked up numbers of CAT scanners per capita in different countries, but they missed the big picture entirely: life expectancy is pretty low in the US. In places like UK or Canada, life expectancy is at least a year greater than it is here. Rates of survivability from just about every disease you can name, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, AIDS, etc. are higher in those areas.

    The CIA (yes, our CIA) world factbook actually publishes [url=http://education.yahoo.com/reference/factbook/countrycompare/imort/4a.html;_ylt=AqEDCYQNQf.BRBSFD.zwBgbPecYF]infant mortality[/url] and [url=http://education.yahoo.com/reference/factbook/countrycompare/le/4d.html;_ylt=AqEDCYQNQf.BRBSFD.zwBgbPecYF]life expectancy[/url] rates for countries around the world.

    We make a pretty poor showing in both. Countries that do better in terms of infant mortality include Canada, UK, Cuba, Singapore, Malta, Australia, Slovenia, Spain, Aruba, and Taiwan. In terms of overall life expectancy, Singapore, Italy, Canada, UK, Israel, France, Bermuda, Jordan, Hong Kong, and more all do better than we do.

    I am all for encouraging personal responsibility as well. But let’s face it: if we believe that the Cato Institute says, that even those that have no insurance and can’t pay get good hospital care (which is really quite false), then somebody is paying for that. It’s us, whether via taxes that support Medicaid or Medicare, and via our health insurance premiums. Because ultimately, when someone that can’t pay receives medical care, that money has to come from somewhere.

    The reality is, though, that the poor have a terrible time getting medical care. The law only requires hospitals to provide “necessary stabilizing treatment” in the event of an emergency for them. Hospitals are not required to treat someone with cancer that isn’t yet life-threatening, or to set a simple broken bone, without payment. Worse still, some poor have no way to get to the hospital. I read a story the other day about a man that had been mugged and had his arm broken by the assailant. He called 911 from a pay phone, but the ambulance refused to take him to the hospital because his life wasn’t in danger. He had no way to pay for a bus, taxi, or car to get there.

    I agree that it’s crazy that people in coastal states are asking for a national catastrophy insurance fund. The people that live in high-risk areas should bear the cost of insurance in those areas.

    The problem with our system is that it’s market-driven in the wrong place. Most individuals don’t buy health insurance. Employers want the cheapest insurance they can get (and so would individuals, of course). Health insurance companies compete heavily on cost. They increase profits by denying care. The incentives are to provide as little care as possible; a real perverse situation.

    Wait times can be a factor in any country. Our emergency room waiting times are also quite high; overcrowding is common. It’s a question of investment. If we the people manage health care investment, we make it as good or as bad as we want it to be, rather than leaving it up to some bureaucrat at a for-profit insurance company.

    Glad to see we agree :-)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I should also add that waits are nothing uncommon in the United States either.

    At my dentist, the wait for a 6-month cleaning is 8 months. Heaven forbid you miss that appointment.

    From any number of doctors offices, you can be sick and just can’t get for several days — or weeks — because they’re too full.

    Terah had that problem. She has asthma and was having difficulty breathing. Her doctor could only refer her to someone within his large practice, and that person had a 4-month waiting list. We had to switch doctors just so she could see an allergist and get relief.

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  5. kirklin

    Being immersed in and otherwise dependent upon health care for paying my bills I will begin by saying that we could certainly do better. Between regulatory agencies and insurance companies, the amount of wasted time, intelligence and resources is staggering. I believe there should be a baseline level of preventative care provided by a single payer system. What happens from there…what we have now…???

    John, you missed one of the grand daddys of all the socialized parts of our economy….FARMING!!! And now you got me started. This is one of the great American tragedies. This is corporate socialism at its worst. Cliff, I am all ears regarding this. Why do you guys agree to participate in this system of production!!! All I hear is whining and complaining from my friends and neighbors out here on the prairie…so why don’t you all rise up and do something about it! The sooner we/you return to producing food stuffs in a sustainable and renewable manner the better. We are simply becoming another third world agriculture system. How about getting some hogs and cattle and chickens and making your own fertilizer???

    Reply

    Anonymous Reply:

    I personally believe that most of our healthcare problems come from having insurance companies that can absorb large costs, and medical institutions that adjust their pricing accordingly.

    Reply

  6. George

    I’m a big supporter of free health care, in fact I can’t believe that it can be any other way.

    However, there is one problem. Resources are limited and those with rare and difficult to treat problems will have trouble if the only health care is government health care. Do you spend that 100,000 on getting a prosthesis for this one guy or do you spend it on treating tuberculosis in so many patients?

    Is there any real problem with a world in which basic care is provided for free and incredibly specialist care is provided by private entities?

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  7. Brooks Robinson

    Um, some of us don’t trust the education of our children to the state. There are private schools and home schools for reasons. A number of “schools” have turned into low-secutiry temporary prisons. I’m all for the voucher system. Then we’ll see if “public” education is worth it.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    But if the government is paying for it, isn’t it still socialized (by the definition we’re using here)?

    Government payment does not necessarily equate to government ownership.

    Reply

  8. Steven

    The problem we have here is governments are horrible at distributing scarce resources, while a free market is the most efficient means of distributing scarce resources we’ve found thus far.

    It’s not a problem of money. The main problems we have in the US health industry are over regulation, and the lack of price competition (not to mention just being able to know what something costs). Employer provided health insurance, while really nice to have, actually contributes to the lack of price competition. As people are separated from the costs of health care we lose the ability to properly allocate scarce resources.

    A government run medical system only makes this worse. That said, I do agree that as a country we should help those unable to deal with health care costs (mostly due to major illness), and while I’m not against that coming from the government I don’t think it has to come from government.

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  9. Aaron Johnson

    The problem is not socialized services, it is socialized services with a monopoly. In the US, all the above mentioned have private counterparts:

    * K-12 education – private schools
    * Police – security guards
    * Fire fighters – fire extinguishers, fire hoses, etc.
    * Public Libraries – private libraries
    * Roads – private toll roads, racetracks, streets in gated communities
    * Airports and air traffic control – private airports (ATC is pretty hard to duplicate)
    * Military defense and offense – Blackwater, anybody.

    All of the the alternatives do exist at extra cost, but they are available. What most folk are afraid of are healthcare systems like Canada’s, where private services available at extra cost are not allowed. For example in the US, most dentists have long waits for appointments. However, for extra cost, one can significantly shorten the wait as Ich have found out.

    Reply

    Nathan Dbb Reply:

    Quote Aaron:
    What most folk are afraid of are healthcare systems like Canada’s, where private services available at extra cost are not allowed.
    End Quote

    That is NOT TRUE.

    There about 3-5% of the doctors in Canada that are fully-private. People who are able and willing to pay can go to these fully-private alternatives.

    Workers and buildings must choose each year if they are going to take money from patients OR take money from the government. This prevents the slippery slope of co-pays, cross-subsidies, and creative accounting from driving up the cost.

    My wife is Canadian, and the system works much better then ours. You sometimes wait, but you never get huge debit that drains you life savings and turns you out of your house.

    MEDICAL CARE DEBIT often leads to BANKRUPTCY in the USA.

    Reply

  10. Nathan Dbb

    Q:
    Why Are We So Afraid of Socialized Medicine?

    A:
    Advertising and Advertising-supported news sources

    In the USA, during the Sunday Political talk shows, a huge number of the advertisers are insurance and financial services companies. Private hospital chains buy ads — the public alternative would not support these media companies. When there was a push for public health care in the ’90s, the industry spent a fortune fighting it with advertising and ‘think tank’ sponsorships.

    The ‘information’ that voters use to make their decisions is provided by advertising-supported sources.

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  11. nate

    Will somebody explain to me how is having the Government taking money from me to give to my doctor going to save costs or be more efficient then me paying the bills myself?

    It sure as hell not going to make stuff any cheaper, it’s not going to improve my healthcare? Is a hospitol working for the government going to all of a sudden have access to cheaper drugs then one that is not government run?

    It’s not. In fact it’s going to make health care more expensive because instead of firing the dipshits in charge right now they are simply going to add another layer of beuracracy on top of what we already have. It’s going to add more dipshits on top of the ones we already have. No insurance agency is ever going to get _less_ money because the government is in charge of giving it out instead of your bosses.

    What it means is that instead of dealing with insurance bs I have to deal with government bs.

    Seriously. Go down to the DMV. Look at the people working there and how efficiently they deal with new vehicle registration. Notice how nice and caring they are? Look at the congress people. Look at George Bush or any one of those jerks in congress.

    Do you realy want those people deciding what hospital you can go to, were doctors are allowed to work, what tests they are allowed to do? You want those people in charge of deciding weither or not your allowed to have a paticular test for cancer based on some statistics?

    Have you ever been in any government run instution and been at their mercy before? It’s not pretty. Remember how wonderfull of a education you got at that K-12 school?

    Seriously. People piss and moan about how shitty the government is and how crappy the war is and everything they are doing to fuck up the economy and they let the media or corporations or special interests make insane or badly developed policies… and on the flip side the same people think that putting in charge of your health care is the best god-damn idea in the world?!!

    ALL BUT ONE of the Senators voted _for_ the war in Iraq. They didn’t do it because the president lied to them.. they did it because they didn’t want to look bad. You want to keep these people out of controlling your lives. They are not good people, they are not smart people.

    These are the same people that figured software patents were the coolest idea in the world. They made the DMCA; this was a fabulous idea according to them.

    They extended copyrights to last multiple lifetimes and they created the legal framework that allows people like the RIAA to terrorize children and old women with little to no real backlash and allows the MPAA to dictate how your software and hardware is designed so they can protect their corporate interests.

    This is just in _software_. This is just the stuff most of us reading this blog will understand.

    Beleive me, this level of incompetence extends to almost _everything_ they do,

    These are the same people that made it illegal to bring shampoo into the airport. Trying to bring a nail file onto a airplane is a possible criminal offense due to these asshats and the people they put in charge.

    And you want these people to tell you when, how, if, and were you can get health care?

    Screw That.

    This is why people are scared of socialized medicine. Because every time in the past they had to deal with the government it’s always been a cluster-f*k of bad decisions and thinly veiled corruption.

    (Oh, and for the vast majority of cases public transporation in the USA is shit. This is why when people visit other countries they are always worried about how to get around without a rental car.)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    It’s all about doing this smart.

    Corporate bureaucrats tell us all how, when, and if we can get health care NOW. We have to get referrals to in-network doctors, wait in long queues, etc.

    If the program does not give the government the power to dictate that, then they won’t have that power. It is up to us as citizens to make sure we elect representatives that will do it intelligently.

    Reply

    Daniel Burrows Reply:

    [quote]If the program does not give the government the power to dictate that, then they won’t have that power. It is up to us as citizens to make sure we elect representatives that will do it intelligently.[/quote]

    But how do we do that? In every election cycle since I’ve been old enough to vote, the only options on my ballot were “bad” and “worse”.

    Reply

  12. Charlie

    If I refuse to pay taxes in order to pay for socialized medicine/universal healthcare, public schools, war, Social Security, or whatever else, would you support the government imprisoning me or shooting me?

    That’s why (some) people are afraid – because false moral justifications for force are a plague. There can be no candidate for change since they’re only arguing over various ways of forcing their arbitrary, bigoted opinions on others. I can totally appreciate the feelings of helplessness and the desire for change, but government power is not the answer.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I agree that the government has too much power. But I think that has nothing to do with whether or not we fund public schools or health care. That has far more to do with voters letting themselves be swayed by TV ads rather than issues, by CNN or Fox rather than things that matter. It also has more to do with making it easy for people to vote, with removing the influence of money from campaigns to the greatest extent possible.

    If the people truly have control over government, then government power has a limit.

    Reply

  13. Maria

    Hi!!!

    Im glad, i see so many comments about that issue, im glad USA people start to realize there’s a problem, big problem..

    The first thing i have to say, is that it seems you are paying the price to the campaign against the word ‘socialist’ around the world for a LONG time ago and our days. So, now you have to fight between yourself to accept that word without being scare

    To the other hand, that faith, against corporations and society in USA is more complicated, because unfortunately you , people, dont rule your country, i think not even the president rule the country, that’s the worst part… But, i tell you, there’s hope as long as you start to be able to ask for help, i accept you, USA, get a problem.. and you cant do it without help.

    Thanks

    Reply

  14. Dan

    You know what is sad… America prides itself on the Christian attitude of what society should be, except when it comes to helping the poor. These same pro-life, intelligent-design, anti-liberal idiots would rather see poor people and immigrants die out in the streets.

    Reply

  15. Alphy

    Most people don’t realize it, but ultimately this is about freedom: we have allowed insurance companies to dictate cost and services, and our costs have risen as a result. Now we are about to give those freedoms to the government instead–and our cost will rise even more!

    We have the right and responsibility to choose who will provide our own health care, and to the extent that we don’t, we suffer for it.

    This can be easily seen in Great Britain and Canada, for despite having longer life expectancies (which could easily be caused by lifestyle choices rather than health care!), when you examine things like cancer recovery rates, the United States is ahead–because in things like this, *waiting kills*.

    Reply

  16. Tony

    If you have private insurance, you quickly realize that “freedom” isn’t part of it. You have a limited choice of doctors. Sure, you can go to others, but the company won’t cover as much and you’ll be stuck with paying a greater share out of pocket. The insurance companies get reduced rates from certain doctors/institutions in exchange for driving business to them. If you prefer different doctors or institutions, you’re basically paying out of pocket. Not as badly as if you showed up with NO insurance, but still paying more.

    So much for the “freedom” aspect.

    The current “public insurance” plan (what the Obama administration is pushing) creates a government-backed insurance plan. It would be unable to turn away customers which the private companies don’t want to insure (too many risks), and would compete with them, head-to-head. Private insurance companies, today, don’t really compete. This would provide competition with ALL of them. If you have a private insurer which you think would do a better job, you would still be free to choose them. If the public plan meets your needs and doesn’t take as much from your pocket, you are free to choose that one.

    I find it amusing that Great Britain and Canada admire Medicare. Medicare is unable to refuse customers, and there are relatively few things they refuse to cover. Consequently, they spend very little money quibbling on whether or not they are going to pay or refuse certain charges. Insurance companies will routinely spend over $1,000 refusing to pay charges which are < $1,000. By eliminating the “we’re not going to pay that, and we’ll hire lawyers if necessary” b.s., the administrative charges in Medicare are a lot lower.

    So, give everyone who wants it the ability to “buy into” Medicare at any age. You’ll have to pay premiums (unless, of course, you’re a senior citizen, collecting Social Security). The private insurers get competition (something they desperately need, and equally desperately do NOT want), and people get to choose what type/level of coverage they want.

    This is not socialized medicine. I’ve lived in Norway; they have socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals, etc. This is public insurance coverage. You still get to choose which insurer you want. The private insurers are all afraid that the public will move, en mass, to the public plan. If they’re afraid of that, it’s probably because they know they won’t be competitive.

    Reply

  17. John

    I don’t trust government schools with my kids, and I certainly don’t trust hospitals with my body. I don’t carry medical insurance since I rely on them NOT treating me without my consent. Whoever pays the bills makes the choices, and I’ll pay my way or do without. I’ll NEVER get insurance – even if that means violating Obamacare.

    Reply

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