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Humane Health Care

Ten ways to resist the single-payer fixes that our new leader has in store for us.

By 2.20.09

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The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide
By Sally C. Pipes
(Pacific Research Institute, 182 pages, $24.95)

President Barack Obama has promised to fundamentally change America's health care system. But before he and his team get to work, they'd do well to read Sally Pipes's new book.

The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide clearly and concisely explicates even the most esoteric aspects of the health care debate. Pipes's rare combination of expertise and understandable prose makes the book a must-read for anyone interested in diagnosing and curing the problems plaguing the American health care system.

One of the first myths Pipes demolishes is the oft-cited statistic that some 46 million Americans lack health insurance.

Almost 18 million of those folks make more than $50,000 a year, while 10 million make more than $75,000. That means 38 percent of the uninsured likely make enough to afford health insurance but choose not to buy it.

An additional 14 million are, Pipes notes, "fully eligible for generous government assistance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP. The problem is, they're just not enrolling in these programs." Pipes wonders, "If 14 million eligibles aren't availing themselves of taxpayer-funded coverage, then why should we think that a still bigger government health care bureaucracy will solve the problem?"

Of course, there are many Americans who legitimately can't afford insurance. Others are paying too much for the coverage they have. President Obama believes the answer is government-provided health care: "If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system."

Many people think that's the only humane alternative. Pipes disagrees. "It is government monopoly health care that is heartless and uncaring. And the inferior treatments it provides come with a very steep price tag -- rationed care, lack of access to tests, with the latest technological equipment, and long waiting lists."

Pipes knows whereof she speaks. She's a Canadian citizen who escaped to California to live and tell about her experiences under a single-payer system.

She illustrates Canada's cost-cutting measures that deny access to new drugs with a personal anecdote. Her uncle was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma five years ago. "If he'd lived in America, the miracle drug Rituxan might have saved him," she writes. "But Rituxan wasn't approved for use in Canada, and he lost his battle with cancer."

As Pipes learned firsthand, "To save funds, Canadian health officials routinely delay the approval of new and more expensive drugs." Of the hundred new drugs launched in the U.S. from 1997 through 1999, only 43 made it to Canada during that time.

Canada's waiting lists are legendary -- over 800,000 Canadians are on lists for surgery and other necessary treatments. The average wait between a referral from a primary care doctor and treatment by a specialist is 18 weeks. "That's almost double what doctors consider clinically reasonable," Pipes points out.

In other socialized systems, things aren't any better. "Sweden's waiting lists have led some patients to visit veterinarians," reveals Pipes.

Part of the problem is a physician shortage. One out of ten Canadians is seeking a primary care doctor. According to Pipes, "Over the last decade, about 11 percent of physicians trained in Canadian medical schools have moved to the United States." This is in large part due to a massive pay discrepancy. "The average Canadian doctor earns only 42 percent of what a doctor earns in the United States," says Pipes.

Pipes concludes her book with potential solutions for our health care problems. She points out that most regulations governing health care are designed to protect a system with a "disconnect between provider and consumer." She proposes that individuals be free to shop for insurance across state lines, thus injecting a hefty dose of competition into the insurance market.

Pipes also argues that the tax breaks on health care enjoyed by corporations should be extended to individual consumers. As she notes, the current system guarantees that "people wind up with coverage that's in their employer's best interest, not theirs."

The U.S. health system is broken. President Obama promises to fix it. With her new book, Pipes has provided his administration with an admirable toolkit.

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About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.