Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hsieh OpEd: "Polis vs Polis on Cars and Health Care"

The December 28, 2008 Boulder Daily Camera has published my latest OpEd on health care. Interestingly, the first online comment in response was from Congressman-elect Jared Polis himself.

Here's the OpEd:
Polis vs. Polis on cars and health care

By Dr. Paul Hsieh
Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boulder's Congressman-elect Jared Polis recently took a bold stand against a federal bailout of the automobile industry, correctly arguing that that the car manufacturers' problems should be handled by the private sector, not the government. Coloradans should urge him to apply the same principles to the issue of health care reform.

In the Dec. 10 Wall Street Journal, Polis wrote: "Our United States Congress... now finds itself poring over 'business plans' submitted this week by Ford, GM and Chrysler. People who have never before in their lives seen -- no less implemented -- a business plan are now trying to decide if these companies will succeed by means of a 'capital infusion' with... [taxpayer] money. Something is wrong with this picture."

Polis is absolutely correct on this point. As a successful businessman himself, he knows that government cannot and should not be manufacturing cars.

His argument applies even more strongly to the issue of health care. Although he campaigned on a platform of government-run "single payer" health care, he should recognize that government cannot and should not be running health care.

Similar socialized medical systems in other countries are consistent failures, leading only to harsh rationing and long waiting lists. In Canada's "single payer" system, a woman who feels a lump in her breast might wait months for the surgery and chemotherapy she needs. In contrast, a Boulder woman could get the care she needed in a few days.

Furthermore, whenever government attempts to guarantee "universal health care," it must also control it. Government then decide who gets what health care and when, not doctors and patients. In single payer systems, far from being a "right," health care becomes just another privilege dispensed at the discretion of government bureaucrats.

A 20-year old Canadian snowboarder who hurts his knee on the slopes might wait almost a year for an MRI scan, if the government does not consider it an "emergency." Yet such a delay in proper diagnosis and treatment could result in a permanent crippling arthritis by age 30. A Colorado snowboarder with the same injury could receive the necessary scan and surgery in a few weeks, avoiding such a life-long disability.

Finally, single payer health care necessarily interposes the government into the doctor-patient relationship in the name of cost control. According to the Telegraph, Great Britain's National Health Service paid bonuses to primary care physicians who reduced the numbers of referrals to hospital specialists -- thus forcing those doctors to choose between their oaths to their patients or the government which pays their salaries.

This corrosive effect on the doctor-patient relationship is one of the worst evils of single payer health care. The evil is not that it allows a few doctors to act badly, but rather that it takes good doctors and encourages them to become bad physicians willing to betray their patients' best medical interests.

The fundamental flaw behind single payer systems (or any other form of "universal health care") is the assumption that health care is a "right" that must be guaranteed by the government. Health care is a need, not a right. Rights are freedoms of action (such as the right to free speech), not automatic claims on goods or services that must be produced by another. There's no such thing as a "right" to a car -- or a tonsillectomy.

Individuals are legitimately entitled to health care that they purchase with their own money, are promised by prior contractual agreements, or are given to them via voluntary charity.

Any attempts to guarantee an alleged "right" to health care must necessarily violate the genuine rights of others -- such as the physicians who are forced deliver health care on the government's terms (rather than their own) and the taxpayers who are forced to pay for others' health care against their will.

Socialism doesn't work for car manufacturing, and won't work for health care. Congressman-elect Polis correctly understands that the government should not be running the auto industry. If Coloradans value their lives and their health, they should urge him to apply that same understanding to health care and to support free market reforms, instead of a "single payer" system. After all, it is their own future health care at stake.

Dr. Paul Hsieh of Sedalia is co-founder, Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine