With President Obama’s health-care reform in limbo, medical expenses in the United States are in a desperate state. Today, about half of all spending on health care in the country is government spending. The president is right to stress that reform is nothing less than a necessity to keep the system affordable but it seems unlikely that an even greater role for government can accomplish that.
Why America’s health care is broken is barely discussed unfortunately. The Democrats seem comfortable maintaining the illusion that the free market has failed in order to promote their agenda whereas the Republicans won’t bother to point out that health care has been subject to government interference for decades already and that it has done nothing to alleviate the ever rising costs. Quite to the contrary, regulation is to a large extent to blame for today’s predicament.
To cut costs, Congress decided during the 1990s to allow Medicare to reduce doctors’ fees by so much as 21 percent this year. The House passed a bill in November to prevent that from happening. Republicans complained at the time that the measure’s $210 billion, ten-year cost was not offset by spending cuts or tax increases. Government expenditures for health care are becoming increasingly unsustainable as a consequence.
In 2009, the United States spent $2.5 trillion for health care with Medicare and Medicaid responsible for roughly half of the costs. Even as the economy shrank, health-care spending grew by 5.7 percent from the year before. Spending by government grew nearly three times faster than private spending. Driving much of the government surge was Medicaid, which grew by nearly 10 percent as workers lost jobs with health insurance and Democrats expanded coverage for children of the working poor.
Health care in the United States ranks among the most expensive in the world while in spite of decades of government financing and regulation, tens of millions of people today are left uninsured.
The proposed cut on doctors’ payments is symptomatic of the problem. Rather than addressing the root of the unsustainable system, legislators are seeking ways to keep it alive for just a little longer, lest they be tasked with the hardship of reform during their term in office. In the long run they won’t manage to, because the system is an immoral one.
It is not the government’s place to demand that doctors treat certain patients and it is certainly not the government’s place to determine how much they may charge for their service.
Yet this situation applies to both the tens of millions of Americans enrolled in government programs and their physicians. Unsurprisingly, it has given rise to an entitlement mentality that presumes medical care to be a “right” which government must ensure.
Health care cannot be a right for it requires that others provide it. Doctors should not be forced by law to do their job if they chose not to.
There is little reason to presume that more regulation will fix the problems caused by regulation in the first place. The only viable and the only righteous alternative is to privatize health care entirely. In a free market, patients chose their own doctor and doctors chose their patients. Without the interference of any regulator, patients will be able to receive the best care their money can buy, with the doctor’s voluntary consent. In all likelihood, it will still leave millions of people uninsured but without any element of coercion, health care can be affordable.