Thursday, July 24, 2008

Make Health Care Like Wal-Mart

If Wal-Mart ran U.S. health care, service would be better and the cost lower. We should be so lucky . . .

[Note: If you have a blog or know someone who does, scroll down to the bottom to get the code for the Clintons4McCain radio show, which "happens" every Saturday at 5 p.m. I'll be on this Saturday with Rev. Manning of Harlem, as well as on through August.]

This is Part III of my series on health care . . . and why the Democrats' plans will be a disaster. The problem with health care in America is not that we don't Democratic plans that make us all increasingly dependent on government for how and where we get medical treatment. The problem is that health care (for reasons described in the columns below) has become separated from the private enterprise system, from capitalism.

Look at it this way: In a time of economic downturn, companies like Wal-Mart and Target are reporting sharp increases in revenues, while high-end department stores are floundering. Why is that? Obviously, people are fulfilling their retail needs at discount stores. They're voting with their pocketbooks. They're choosing to be more careful with their dollars. That's a choice we have in retail stores.

Where are the health care equivalents of Wal-Mart and Target? They don't exist. When it comes to medical care, it's Saks Fifth Avenue or nothing. My brother went into a hospital three years ago with a very minor ailment -- syncope, faintness -- and when he walked out 30 hours later, the bill was $22,600. He had no insurance, so various entities paid for it, one of which was you as a taxpayer.

We have no real choices in health care. In my area (Pittsburgh/Beaver County, western PA) all the doctors charge basically the same price, and the same is true of hospitals. When it comes to choice, customers -- patients -- have very little of it. Beyond that, patients have very little knowledge of which caregivers are good -- and which are mediocre. We have less knowledge about health care providers than we do about choices in underwear.

Also, if we're covered by insurance -- or by government payouts -- we have almost no incentive to shop around. If we need a wart removed -- or an appendix -- we go where we go.

Since we're not paying for it, at least directly, the service is basically free. Why should we care how much it costs?The health plans proposed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don't deal with the problem -- and it's a whopper -- that I outline.

The Democrats' plans talk about cost controls, but that's all it is -- talk. Those plans are recipes to drive costs up -- and services down.

Some people are mystified by John McCain's health care proposals. Basically, they're simple. He wants to bring the private enterprise system into play. He wants people to be able to choose their own insurers and level of coverage. He also wants them to be able to choose the quality of services and even negotiate the price of the services they purchase.

It's a very good idea. It won't work out perfectly, but it will begin the process of driving health costs down, increasing choice, and -- ultimately -- improving care.

The Democrats' proposals? They'll have the opposite effect, leading to all the bad results found in universal health care programs in Canada, Britain, and similar countries. If Obama becomes President, prepare to wait in long lines . . . and receive indifferent care. That's what happens in Canada, and it's exactly what eventually will happen here.

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