Sunday, October 26, 2003

America Going Socialist?

Americans Favor Single Payer Health Care System

This is a fascinating conversation between ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings and ABC News' Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson:
Jennings: The conventional wisdom is Americans like to think that we have the best health-care system in the world.

Johnson: And we do, certainly for people that are very rich or who have very good health insurance and who have very good connections into the health-care system. But for too large a number, 43 million, and many who are underinsured, it is not the very best system in the world.

Jennings: So what was notable in that regard in this poll this time?

Johnson: What was notable is that 62 percent of our population said that they would favor a system of universal health insurance financed by the government, paid for by the tax payers, as opposed to the system we now have, the employer based system where many people are uninsured. I was stunned by that figure.

Jennings: I think conventional wisdom has it that in America, land of the free, that the marketplace is where the price is best established.

Johnson: That's true for commodities like a car, where you can go in and make choices and you can even walk out of the showroom if you want. You can't do that when you're sick. You can't do that with health care. So, for health care, you're talking about a service and here I think the private sector has some real shortcomings. They have to spend a lot of overhead on sales and marketing and choosing the patients they're going to serve. They shuffle a lot of paperwork.

Jennings: Now, I think that the conventional wisdom is still the single-payer system, as you and others have described it, is socialized medicine and that isn't for the U.S.

Johnson: Socialized medicine means that the government both finances healthcare and owns and operates the doctors and the hospitals.

Jennings: Like Britain?

Johnson: Like Britain. In Canada, it's a split system. The government indeed does collect the money and disperse it. They run the financial part of health care. But the delivery system is free. People can choose whatever doctor or hospital they want to go to. So, we have a system like that in this country. It's called Medicare. That's exactly what happens with Medicare. So, to call the Canadian system socialized is to call Medicare socialized. I think it's a pejorative word and inaccurate.

Jennings: When I walk past people who know that we're doing this series this week and I mention the single-payer system, they just say, "Never in America."

Johnson: I've talked to elderly people who say they love Medicare but they don't want the government involved. They forget that the government has a role to play in setting standards, maybe in handling the money with lower administrative costs. It would be a tragedy for the government to try to run the health-care system in terms of delivery.

Jennings: On top of which, many Americans hold it to be conventional wisdom that private is better than public. Period.

Johnson: In fact the government does a few things well. And I'll hold up one example in the health-care system: The NIH, the National Institutes of Health, is the shining gem of medical research in this entire world. It's owned and run by the government. They can do some things well, especially when it comes to health care. Not everything, but some things.
OK. So now all we have to do is convince the insurance industry (and those in Congress that they support) to go away.