Ezra Klein argues against the conflation of single-payer health care and socialized medicine:
Socialized medicine is a system in which the government owns the means of providing medicine. Britain is an example of socialized system, as, in America, is the Veterans Health Administration. In a socialized system, the government employs the doctors and nurses, builds and owns the hospitals, and bargains for and purchases the technology. I have literally never heard a proposal for converting America to a socialized system of medicine. And I know a lot of liberals.
Single-payer health care is not socialized medicine. It’s a system in which one institution purchases all, or in reality, most, of the care. But the payer does not own the doctors or the hospitals or the nurses or the MRI scanners. Medicare is an example of a mostly single-payer system, as is France. Both of these systems have private insurers to choose from, but the government is the dominant purchaser.
Liberals prefer the more academic sounding “single payer” term to “socialized medicine” but in reality it this is a distinction without a difference. When government is the sole purchaser of health care, makes the regulations, and sets the nation’s health care budget each year it controls the health care system. In such a system, doctors and hospitals aren’t private in any meaningful way. One of the main arguments in favor of a single-payer system, is that by pooling resources, a single large purchaser can reduce costs by using its bargaining power over providers. Whether a doctor is literally employed by the government or simply compensated with taxpayer dollars at a salary contingent upon a budget set by the government doesn’t seem to me worth making much fuss about — unless, of course, your goal is to make Americans more open to the idea of a government takeover of health care.
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