The Nation's Pulse

A Dose of Reality

Imagine the DMV in charge of your healthcare.

By 5.9.08

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Want an idea what health care will be like under an Obama or Rodham Clinton presidency? Just pick up any British newspaper. Here's one recent story from the Daily Mail:

Dorothy Simpson suffers from an irregular heartbeat that gives here an increased chance of heart failure and stroke. Her doctor recommended a surgery to correct the problem. Great Britain's National Health Service rejected the doctor's request, saying the 61-year-old was too old. After the media began inquiring about the decision, the NHS decided Simpson wasn't too old after all.

Welcome to the wacky world of socialized medicine. When it comes to health care horror stories British papers contain more frights than the October issue of Weird Tales. A good sample of them can be found at Reason Online's Daily Brickbats page.

Still it's hard to convince some Americans that such is their future under Dr. Obama or HillaryCare. This is understandable since most law-abiding citizens have little direct experience with the great maze and headache of government bureaucracy. We hire accountants to fill in our Daedalian tax forms, and, if at all possible, we send our children to private or religious schools.

It is likely that our only encounter with government minions occurs at the local post office, or, once a year, at the DMV or emissions testing center. And yet even our infrequent visits to the post office -- particularly those located in large cities -- are too much of a bureaucratic nightmare for most of us, if all of the grumbling and cursing under people's breath is any indication.

No one expects bureaucracies to operate smoothly and efficiently. They are after all monopolies, with no requirement for competition or innovation. Workers are protected by strong unions; no matter how inept, government employees possess the kind of job security that would make a tenured literature professor envious.

Government jobs are often handed out as patronage to the offspring of third-rate ward-heelers, i.e., persons who cannot find real jobs on their own. A government job thus saves them from a life of scrubbing bedpans at the nursing home, or folding sheets in a hospital laundry room.

Now imagine that the same lethargic clerks down at the DMV or the post office are responsible for choosing the doctor for your liver transplant, that is, assuming you are deemed worthy of the transplant. Such a scenario can only bring to mind the famous line from Conrad's Heart of Darkness: "[H]e cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath -- 'The horror! The horror!'"

I RECENTLY HAD my own Kurtzian -- or rather Kafkaesque -- brush with a stuporous bureaucracy, no doubt a preview of what health care will be like when handed over to the government.

Back on Valentine's Day I was ticketed for speeding. Naturally I hired an attorney to get the ticket reduced to a non-moving violation. The lawyer and the city get a nice chunk of my paycheck and I keep the points off my record. Every one is happy.

That is, I was happy until I became sucked into the strange Twilight Zone world that is a city bureaucracy. Following my lawyer's advice, I sent payment to the city court. The city sent it back, advising me that I overpaid. I sent a second payment. The city returned this too saying "too late, a warrant has been issued for your arrest."

During my lunch hour I was on my way to my lawyer's suburban office with yet another payment (the third if you are counting) when I was pulled over and arrested on the outstanding warrant. I was booked and held for seven hours before I was able to get word to the outside world of my incarceration. At length I was released on $150 bond.

Meanwhile, a month and a half passed and the warrant remained on the books. The city claimed it never received my bond payment. For the past six weeks I've been unable to find any one in the police department or court clerk's office who has a clue what is going on. I could be tossed back into the slammer any moment for a speeding ticket I was not allowed to pay. (As I was writing this, my bond payment arrived in my mailbox, erroneously sent to my home address instead of the city clerk's office...)

This is very likely the future of health care under a Clinton-Obama presidency, only we're not talking about a few hours or days of freedom lost due to an inept bureaucracy -- we're talking about the possibility of lives lost.

No doubt there are problems with the current health care system. However, most of these difficulties can be traced to ruinous government-intervention, the lack of free market principles, an American Medical Association monopoly on the supply of physicians, and frivolous lawsuits that drive up costs enormously.

Health care is wasteful and expensive, but as P.J. O'Rourke said, "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free."

Though far from perfect, Sen. John McCain's $2,500 per individual tax credit will at least steer us away from employer-based health care, while encouraging competition. McCain's plan would also go a long way toward reducing health care costs, improving quality, and increasing access to care by getting consumers more involved, and the government less so.

If the McCain plan sinks like a lead zeppelin it will be because most Americans have deluded themselves into believing that they are not paying for their employer-based health insurance, when in fact, like their income tax, it comes out of their paycheck.

I remain convinced that the most effective way to cure Americans of a desire for socialized medicine is to give them a healthy dose of good old-fashioned government bureaucracy. It certainly cured me.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.