Imagine the following:
You awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of an intruder somewhere in your house. You quietly pick up your bedside phone and call one of the newly privatized police departments in your area.
Police Dispatcher: 911, what's your emergency?
You (whispering into the phone): There's an intruder in my house.
Police Dispatcher: Do you have an account with us?
You: What? No.
Police Dispatcher: You need to open an account in order for us to send someone.
You: What? Okay, can we do this fast?
Police Dispatcher: We have several plans to offer you. The Gold Shield Plan gives you full protection 24/7 365 days a year and it costs $4,999.00 per year. The Silver Shield Plan covers...
You: Wait, just... listen, can you just send someone fast? Now?
Police Dispatcher: The "emergency" plan is a one time payment which covers a single occurrence.
You: Great, I'll take that.
Police Dispatcher: Is the intruder armed?
You: I have no idea.
Police Dispatcher: Well, we need to know if he's armed, as it costs more. The basic charge, for an unarmed intruder, is $199.00, but if that intruder is armed, the price is higher, depending on what type and calibre of weapon. The charges range from $250.00 for an intruder with a knife or blunt object, to $999.00 for an intruder with a semi-automatic weapon. Now, an unknown chemical or biological substance would be a special circumst...
You: Can't we figure this out after you... afterwards??? He's coming closer to my room!
Police Dispatcher: Sure, we need your credit card information.
You: What? Okay, one second.... do you take Discover?
Police Dispatcher: No.
This absurd scenario comes straight out of the twilight zone, yet the reasons we would scoff at a privatized police department can all be equally applied to our health care system. Simply put, a free market system relies on competition to control the quality of goods and services as well as the prices paid by consumers. In health care, the "seller" has all the control. When someone has cancer, they can't simply "shop around" or decide against treatment, as they would if they were buying a car. In the latter scenario, the consumer has the power. They don't NEED to buy a car. It's not a life threatening situation to live without a car. They can choose a very cheap car, or a very expensive car. Or they can choose to take the bus, train, or even walk! They can take the time to shop around and compare prices and services. The seller needs to compete with other sellers to entice the consumer to buy a car. Does anyone need to be enticed to "purchase" open-heart surgery? Or chemo-therapy treatment? If there is ONE procedure which will save your life, how much choice does the consumer have? None. Unless one considers pay up or die a "choice." And the concept that we could "shop around" is absurd on its face. Imagine being told you had a rare cancer, which needs immediate treatment. Do you shop around for the best price? Do you negotiate? Do you play hardball with the surgeon?
The fact that the "consumer" has no real choice at all means they have little to no power. And the Insurance companies can continually chip away at the "services" they provide, with virtual impunity. This is not Capitalism.
But back to the concept of a "free-market" police force for a moment. How would that work, exactly? Would police officers refuse to help those who couldn't afford coverage, like in our health care system? Would police officers determine what crimes you were covered for and investigate only those crimes, based on the plan you could afford? Would they deny you protection based on a discovery that you were robbed prior to signing the contract with them? Like a "pre-existing condition"? What if you were late on a payment? Would that mean they don't have to come to your aid? And the contracts, would they become more complex and full of caveats and loopholes? Would police department bureaucrats, who get bonuses for finding ways to avoid providing police services to clients, find new and interesting ways to interpret coverage? Would they realize that it's worth taking the chance on being sued, even if they know they would lose in court? Surely the average client wouldn't go through the long and drawn out litigation process, right? So maybe it's worth it to deny this rightful claim? Like the insurance companies do as a matter of course?
A government-run health care system has been proven to be the best available system in the world at PROVIDING HEALTH CARE. Too often, the free-market ideologues forget that the mark of a good health care system is the level of HEALTH CARE it provides, and not simply the level of profitability it provides to the service providers. Imagine if the mark of a good police force was based on how much profit they made and not how much crime they prevented? Ridiculous. Yet this is the bizarre world we live in with regard to health care.
What's truly remarkable is the fact that government run programs have been proven throughout the western world and beyond to not only provide MUCH better health care, but at half the price per capita! But when we look at the "profits" being made, our system is suddenly deemed the "best," regardless of the avalanche of empirical evidence from numerous nations over many decades, which shows our HEALTH CARE system to be sub-par at providing HEALTH CARE.
A final word about bureaucrats. We often hear the lament decrying the "government bureaucrat getting between you and your doctor." This is rarely the case in government run health care systems. As explained in a recent Denver Post article about Canadian health care:
While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be. There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks - unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.
The bulk of the employees in the insurance industry are bureaucrats, whose job it is to maximize profits, NOT provide quality health care services. How do they maximize profits? By denying claims. If a bureaucracy has to be involved, and there's always a bureaucracy, would you rather have a government bureaucrat? Or an insurance company bureaucrat, who PERSONALLY PROFITS BY FINDING WAYS TO AVOID PAYING CLAIMS? The answer should be simple.
Two recent personal stories:
A few weeks ago, I ran into a former co-worker in the street. He's obviously had a drink or two and he asks me if there's any work around for him. I tell him I don't know of any. He then practically starts to cry, as he tells me about his wife's illness and how his insurance company refuses to pay for her treatment. He had to fly her to Brazil for treatment, on his own dime. Not only is he dealing with his wife's illness and sudden need to fly to Brazil, but he's now having to deal with a lawsuit against the insurance company at the same time. He literally gave me the feeling that he could become suicidal at any moment. This guy was a hard-working, professional and all-around nice guy. Now, he's a shell and on the verge of bankruptcy, largely due to his wife's health problems.
A friend of mine, who has an allegedly good insurance plan has had to take medicine for a chronic condition every day for years. Recently, some bureaucrat at the insurance company notified her doctor that they would no longer cover that particular drug, but would only cover a cheaper alternative. The medicine WORKS. It has worked. It is what the doctor wanted to prescribe. So, the choice was given; either pay the full price for the doctor's choice out of pocket, or "try" the other, cheaper drug, and hope it works.
Check this out:
The insurance lobby is very wealthy and powerful, but the strength of a unified population is one which cannot be stopped. It's time to get informed and put an end to a system which leads to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year. We all saw how the nation came together when a few thousand of our fellow Americans were murdered on 9/11. Why then are we showing such lack of concern when tens of thousands of those same fellow citizens are needlessly suffering and dying each and every year?
In the comments section, a blogger named Ben Masel points to a case where this has happened already and brings up a good point. Who would own these privatized police departments and what would their ideology be? Would they use this force for political purposes? Would they target specific groups while allowing others to act illegally with impunity? The slippery slope argument is clear.