Saturday, August 22, 2009

Free is a very good price

The ticket to better health care

So here’s the solution to our health care crisis: send all the uninsured sick people to another country that has socialized medicine.

This idea springs from a guest column in The Oregonian by David Lister, a genuinely nice and reasonable guy who also is a political conservative. Lister opposes the single-payer health care systems in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and probably also the public option proposed and possibly abandoned by President Obama.

Yet he recounts his own experience with Britain’s nationalized health care and comes away begrudgingly satisfied:

“Last April, during a trip to Scotland, I had my own encounter with a "socialized" health system. The day before our scheduled return I experienced severe chest pains and labored breathing. Our hosts insisted that I allow them to call the health service. After some discussion with a screener, I was told I should come in to be examined. In less than an hour, I was sitting in an exam room with a Scottish physician. A rapid examination satisfied him that I was not in cardiac distress, but merely suffering from acute indigestion.”

Lister mentions that his attending physician said he would move to American “in a hot minute,” presumably because of better pay, but also notes that his trip to the doctor cost him nothing.

If a doctrinaire conservative can experience socialized medicine first hand and not launch into a voluminous rant about how awful it is, think about how ordinary, non-ideological Americans would react. It seems that Americans are afraid of health care reform because they view it as the devil they don't know. So introduce them to the single-payer system and see how they like it.

This would have two positive effects:

  1. In the short run, it would save us billions of dollars. Buying a plane ticket for an uninsured American would be a lot less expensive than providing health insurance for that person, or treating the illness. Of course, there would have to be some kind of screening to make sure the sick person was actually sick and not trying to finagle a free trip abroad.

  2. After awhile, Britain, France and all the other countries with socialized medicine would catch on and start denying care to American tourists, but by that time, enough Americans would have been treated overseas—or in Canada—to greatly expand the movement for publicly-financed universal health care here. These people would then start showing up at town hall meetings demanding that their representatives pass the legislation that recently was getting shouted down.

In addition, if more people spent time abroad, they might develop an appreciation for such European things as fast and reliable public transit, walking, eating food in small portions and five-week vacations—all of which are good for one's health.