Health Care Myths

There are two horrendous government bills being considered at the moment. Both deserve an immediate and decisive death. One is the ETS bill which Rudd wants Australia to pass. It, like the Copenhagen proposals, will be utter disaster for all of us. It will do nothing to help the climate, and will simply be a $120 billion tax slug on all Australians.

The second bill is Obama’s health care bill. This is another monstrosity which needs to be soundly rejected. It is a lousy bill which is unlikely to make any improvement to American health care. But it is another massive government grab of tax dollars.

Indeed, there have been countless myths in circulation regarding health care in the US in general and Obama’s bill in particular. The fuzzy thinking on this topic is quite alarming actually. As but one example, a writer in a conservative Australian publication recently called on Americans to embrace higher taxes, and praised the Obama plan.

He then went on to make this incredible claim: “60 million Americans lack adequate health cover”. This statement is quite misleading for a number of reasons. Let me explain:

While accurate numbers on these matters are quite hard to come by, the common figure is 46 million Americans who do not have health insurance. But that figure itself needs to be carefully teased out. Many of these are simply people in between jobs, and when they do get another job, their employer will offer health insurance.

But we do know that at least 18 million of these Americans earn more than $50,000 a year. Also, some 10 million of the 46 million are not even American citizens. And another 14 million are eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. Moreover, young Americans especially often choose not to be insured.

So that leaves some 8 million Americans (out of a total population of 308 million – or just 2.6 %), who are chronically uninsured. So there is a relatively small group of Americans who do need help, but more Federal bureaucracy and red tape is not the way to help these people. We already have the enormous failures of socialised medicine in places like Canada and England to serve as a warning of not going down this path.

And of course even the poorest American cannot be denied treatment in an emergency room, and so on. Annual Government spending for the uninsured amounts to $31 billion. And as Thomas Sowell points out, the ready availability of medical care, regardless of health insurance, acts as a disincentive for people to become insured.

So we need to tread much more carefully here before we start trumpeting ObamaCare, including its provisions for Federal funding of abortion. Fortunately I am not alone in this. Many other critics have shared their concerns. A recent article by Charles Krauthammer is well worth quoting from here.

He argues that Obama’s bill is “irredeemable” and should be killed off immediately. He begins his incisive article this way: “The United States has the best health care in the world — but because of its inefficiencies, also the most expensive. The fundamental problem with the 2,074-page Senate health-care bill (as with its 2,014-page House counterpart) is that it wildly compounds the complexity by adding hundreds of new provisions, regulations, mandates, committees, and other arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.

“Worse, they are packed into a monstrous package without any regard to each other. The only thing linking these changes — such as the 118 new boards, commissions, and programs — is political expediency. Each must be able to garner just enough votes to pass. There is not even a pretense of a unifying vision or conceptual harmony.”

After looking at some of the specific problems, he offers a better way: “First, tort reform. This is money — the low-end estimate is about half a trillion per decade — wasted in two ways. Part is simply hemorrhaged into the legal system to benefit a few jackpot lawsuit winners and an army of extravagantly rich malpractice lawyers such as John Edwards.

“The rest is wasted within the medical system in the millions of unnecessary tests, procedures, and referrals undertaken solely to fend off lawsuits — resources wasted on patients who don’t need them and which could be redirected to the uninsured who really do.”

One more reform: “Second, even more simple and simplifying, abolish the prohibition against buying health insurance across state lines. Some states have very few health insurers. Rates are high. So why not allow interstate competition? After all, you can buy oranges across state lines. If you couldn’t, oranges would be extremely expensive in Wisconsin, especially in winter.

“And the answer to the resulting high Wisconsin orange prices wouldn’t be the establishment of a public option — a federally run orange-growing company in Wisconsin — to introduce ‘competition.’ It would be to allow Wisconsin residents to buy Florida oranges. But neither bill lifts the prohibition on interstate competition for health insurance. Because this would obviate the need — the excuse — for the public option, which the left wing of the Democratic party sees (correctly) as the royal road to fully socialized medicine.”

He concludes, “Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency. The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing. and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.”

While there are heaps of problems with Obama’s plan, it is good to see alternatives being thought about and proposed. Indeed, whole books have been written on how we might fix things. Let me close with a few suggested titles for starters:

Sally Pipes, The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care. Pacific Research Institute, 2008.
Paul Gratzer, The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care. Encounter Books, 2006.
Thomas Sowell, Applied Economics, revised ed. Basic Books, 2009, (Chapter 3, “The Economics of Medical Care”).

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43 Replies to “Health Care Myths”

  1. I would be taking a mental step back to ask why faux issues like global warming or swine flu are being waved so hard in our faces… what is being achieved under the camouflage of our terrible irresponsbility which will (not) kill the planet?

    With an answer to that meta-question, we would be better prepared to react sensibly.

    Leon Brooks

  2. I’m a software developer in the US who’s been unemployed (due to our lovely economy) for over a year. They really aren’t hiring here. I know, I’ve tried. I’ve got 14 years of professional programming experience and have never had trouble finding work till this so-called financial crisis hit the country.

    Here’s my question for you: What should I do if I or my wife or my 2 year old daughter gets injured or becomes seriously ill? Its just a fact of life here that when people are “between jobs” they can’t get health care. Its just too expensive because the cost of living is greater than unemployment benefits pay, and uninsured medical care is ridiculously expensive. It used to be only the lazy were out of work, but this is not the case currently. Nobody can find work in this stupid recession.

    To be clear, I’m not saying govt run health care is the answer, even though Australia seems to think its ok and its supposedly been working there for ages. I’m just asking you what you think I should do if someone in my family needs medical attention during this time of unemployment which has no foreseeable end.

    Incidentally, we’ve been trying to migrate to Australia for a full 12 months now. Visa restrictions imposed by the Australian govt are causing severe delays. Now I’m told it will take 3 more years to approve the “Skilled Independent” visa unless I can find a sponsor who would be willing to hire me, then I could get a 457 visa. We recognize that America is fatally flawed, and we’re trying desperately to get out of here before it gets worse.

    Nathan Schellinger, US

  3. Thanks Nathan

    I am of course in no position to offer personal advice on an individual’s particular situation, and it would be unfair to expect that of me. My article simply sought to make some general points. It did not pretend to address every individual case out there. Those general points were:

    -the American health care system is far from perfect, but it is better than most.
    -Yes there are issues that need to be addressed, but Obamacare is not the way forward.
    -by all means reform the system, but do not take us in the direction of socialised medicine.

    And BTW, why do you assume things are so much better here? If you or a family member gets into strife here, you can often wait months, if not years, to get proper treatment. I would much rather getting quicker treatment in the US. That is why so many Canadians are coming to the US for health care.

    And as I already said, no US hospital can refuse emergency treatment and the like to anyone, even the uninsured.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Can you please explain to me the difference between Australian healthcare as it exists today, and “socialized medicine”? I’ve been trying to figure that one out for a while. I was under the impression that if we got our permanent visa in Australia that we’d get essentially “free” healthcare for the essential (non frivolous) medical needs via Medicare.

    Also, while its true that US hospitals will indeed treat the uninsured, these people become indebted to the hospitals for potentially tens of thousands of dollars and when they cannot pay, collection agencies are sent after them to seize assets. Its an ugly system.

    So in Australia, people have to wait for medical care? That’s rather disturbing. I do know one thing that’s different in your country though. You’re not suffering the recession we are. You don’t have 12 trillion dollars of debt that will never be paid off. I still want to come. Besides, Australians are more friendly. 🙂

    Nathan Schellinger, US

  5. Thanks Nathan

    I am not quite into the ‘which is better: Australia or US?’ game. Both have pros and cons. No country is perfect, and there are plenty of problems here in Australia.

    As to health care, almost on a daily basis we read of horror stories here with Australia’s socialised health care, whether it be an elderly person waiting 2 years for a hip replacement, all someone sitting on a stretcher in a public hospital hallway for 30 hours, and so on. This is not a health care paradise if that is why you want to come here. You have been sold a bill of goods I am afraid.

    And sorry, but you are falling for the oldest trick in the book. There is no free health care here. Nothing is free. How do you think this is all paid for? We all pay for it in higher taxes. So you of course will pay for your health care, either directly or indirectly.

    As to our economy and the recession, we had a decade of conservative government which always does the economy good. Now we have a leftist government which is doing all sorts of things (stimulus packages, a mega-costly ETS, etc) which will soon bankrupt the country. So I would not buy your airline tickets just yet.

    Indeed, the smartest thing you can do is stay put, and work to get Obama out of office in the next US election, and get a conservative and fiscally responsible Republican into the White House.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Thomas Sowell writes:

    Waiting weeks to get an MRI to find out why you are sick, and then waiting months for an operation, as happens in countries with government-run medical systems, can be not only painful but dangerous. You can be dead by the time they find out what is wrong with you and do something about it. But that will “bring down the cost of medical care” because you won’t be around to require any.

    I’ve had occasion to compare the two recently. Under private health, my wife got MRI then knee op quite quickly. My mate at the chess club had a knee op done freely under the public system—but a long wait even for the consultation, then a 2.5 year wait for the actual op.

    Even some simple math: OK, current health insurance is expensive. But if taxes are increased to pay for the “free” health, that could make it much more expensive still, with lower quality, rationing, and waiting lists. E.g. 5% more tax on a #50,000 income is $5000, which is more expensive that $400/month private insurance.

    Dr Sowell also says:

    If you think the government can lower medical costs by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse”, as some Washington politicians claim, the logical question is: Why haven’t they done that already? Over the years, scandal after scandal has shown waste, fraud and abuse to be rampant in Medicare and Medicaid. Why would anyone imagine that a new government medical program will do what existing government medical programs have clearly failed to do?

    Cal Thomas writes:

    Among the outrages cited by Dr. Fraser about the House bill are these: “A government committee will decide what treatments/benefits you get (p. 123); The Health Choices commissioner will choose your health care benefits for you … you will have no choice (p. 42); health care will be provided to all non-U.S. citizens, illegal or otherwise (p. 50, section 152); government will have real-time access to individuals’ finances and a ‘National ID Health card’ will be issued. (p. 58).”

    There’s more, unfortunately. The government will specify benefit levels for plans. That means, “rationing of health care” (p.85, line 7); “government will mandate linguistic appropriate services … translation: illegal aliens (p. 91, lines 4-7); the government will use groups (i.e. ACORN & AmeriCorps) to sign up individuals for the government health care plan (p. 95, lines 8-18).”

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  7. Nathan Schellinger:

    You’re not suffering the recession we are. You don’t have 12 trillion dollars of debt that will never be paid off.

    Of course not. Our previous government under Howard and Costello not only repaid the debt of the previous Labor government, but accumulated a surplus—despite the Asian financial crisis, NASDAQ crash and 11-9. This current Labor government has already frittered away the surplus and put us into debt again. This must be repayed eventually, either by higher taxes or printing money (robbing people of the value of their savings).

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  8. Americans should take more seriously P.J. O’Rourke’s quip : “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free”.

    Mansel Rogerson

  9. Nathan, you can _add_ Aus Citizenship to your US Citizenship (takes about 6 months), as I ran into an ex-Idaho resident in the town of Tambellup (Western Australia) who has done so.

    This has only been possible for a relatively few years.

    Canada has free health care, but I have met several Canadian who envy our (yes, imperfect) health care system.

    Leon Brooks

  10. Thanks Bill.
    Never forget that when Obama’s package seemed to be on a roll last July, it was Sarah Palin who turned the debate around with two words on her Facebook page, which have now become part of the political lexicon: “death panels”. Obama’s package mandated rationing of health care for the elderly; hence she called out the nefarious package and declared, having regard to strong language, “Not ‘no’ but ‘Hell no!” Immediately Obama was on the back foot, having to explain to people at specially called meetings that “we will not be pulling the plug on grandma”. Now a rule in politics is that when you have to go out and explain something you have already lost.

    After first denying (of course!) that “death panels” existed in the legislation, House Democrats within days took out the non-existent provisions, and the debate has gone on from there. But Sarah Palin’s well-chosen remark was a game-changer. Despite being lampooned and vilified by the MSM, she was right: the fact is that health care rationing is part of what socialised medicine is all about. Once people hit say 80 they must pass some arbitrary test of suitability to continue living, where the economic factor will be quite prominent.

    This woman is politically savvy like few I have seen in my lifetime, and she has the ability to grasp the heart of an issue in a few straightforward words, and also the ability to identify with mainstream America, a sector of society which the liberal-left fairly hates and despises. May God be with her.

    Murray Adamthwaite

  11. Well said Murray

    And may God also be with the new leader of the opposition, who like Palin is pro-faith, pro-life and pro-family.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. I experienced socialised (‘veterinary’) medicine when living in Sweden. It’s crap, and those who sing its praises have never experienced it. I’ve also experienced the US health system. It was fantastic! It beats the Swedish system hands down.

    In Sweden, if you just want to see a doctor you have to ring up between 9 and 10am. You talk to someone who is more than a secretary but less than a nurse (?) and try to convince her that you are sick enough to warrant an appointment. If she is not convinced then no appointment. And you cannot book one for the next day–you have to ring up and try again the next morning. Too bad if you die in the night!

    My son had a high fever for 3 days which we were treating with Paracetamol, so we tried to get an appointment. The pseudo-nurse told us to wait till he had it for 4 days then try again!!!

    In USA, my son again had a high fever and this time had an actual seizure. That was scary! We dialled 911 and the paramedics turned up pronto, treated him, organised transport to hospital and comforted us. We didn’t get asked for payment before treatment or any such thing. It was not until after any possible danger had passed did anyone ask us for billing details. We received the bills in the mail some weeks later and they were not much more expensive than what one would pay here.

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  13. Damien,

    Yep, Thomas Sowell is definitely the top conservative writer/intellectual in my view. When I read his books and articles written some years back, I think he is offering commentary on current events! The man is prescient! everything he says rings so true, and in recent times, even truer!

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  14. Damien and Andrew, I agree. Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed is the best skewering of Leftopathy around; his economics books are great, Affirmative Action Around the World shows up the disastrous results of this politically correct policy (Dr Sowell is black himself), and one of his sayings would immeasurably improve politicals if more voters adopt it:

    I’d like to get them [young lefties] to think in terms of incentives and empirical evidence, and not in terms of goals and hopes. Over the years, I’ve reached the point where I can hardly bear to read the preamble of proposed legislation. I don’t care what you think this thing is going to do. What I care about is: What are you rewarding, and what are you punishing? Because you’re going to get more of what you’re rewarding and less of what you’re punishing.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  15. Hi Bill,

    I noticed this comment in your article…”We already have the enormous failures of socialised medicine in places like Canada and England to serve as a warning of not going down this path.”

    May I ask for some details of the “enormous failure” you talk about? Your only argument seems to be that people have to wait for some treatments? While I am certainly not in agreement with everything in the Canadian medical system, why do you argue that having to wait for some treatments is ipso facto an enormous failure? In the USA, sick people may be able to visit the emergency ward once, but not on an ongoing basis for a continuing medical condition. They are just out of luck in the longterm and may have to sell everything they own to cover a major operation. Yes, that’s the market, but I would ague that the health system should not be run by the market.

    Why should efficiency (US system) trump compassion & concern for citizens? I am much more careful about using the word “socialized” medicine. It’s a straw man. The Canadian, Australian, NZ, British systems are voluntary tax payer funded subsidies. The health system is funded in the same way as the fire department, sewer department, roads and police department. These are not “socialized” departments.

    The US subsidizes (without taxpayer approval ) many inefficient indutries – wheat, cotton, automobiles, lumber, rice….and now the banks. No one gets to vote on whether the money is taken for this purpose. Now that IS Socialism.

    All this money the US government takes (without following a democratic process) from the taxpayers to fund these inefficient industries could provide a very nice medical system – and there would still be billions left over! Why not let the American citizens decide which system they would prefer – that’s Democracy.
    Bless you Bill 😉

    Dr Darrell Furgason

  16. Thanks Darrell

    With all due respect, I had to read your comment over a few times to convince myself this is the same Darrell I know, a conservative Aussie who happens to be living in Canada. While this is not the place for an extended discussion of the Canadian health care system, I would have thought the most basic and convincing response to your concerns would be to simply to ask the many Canadians who regularly cross the border into America to get treatment why they are doing this. People vote with their feet, in other words.

    But alas your comment is laden with a glaring contradiction, the resolution of which in fact answers your own questions. In your second paragraph you claim the US health system is “run by the market”. Yet in your last two paragraphs you speak of government intervention in the system. But of course you cannot have it both ways. The latter is in fact correct – this is not the free market operating at all in the US. That is the real straw man here.

    As I said in my article, the US system is far from perfect. But the answer is less government interference, not more. In this regard I fully agree with you – let the American people decide for themselves about their own health care, instead of having it mandated from above by the government. I really hope you are not going to tell me you actually favour Obamacare! But as I tell so many others, we may just need to agree to disagree on some of these issues here. Thanks for writing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  17. Dr Darrell Furgason:

    The Canadian, Australian, NZ, British systems are voluntary tax payer funded subsidies.

    Try not paying taxes and see how “voluntary” they are.

    The US subsidizes (without taxpayer approval ) many inefficient indutries – wheat, cotton, automobiles, lumber, rice….and now the banks. No one gets to vote on whether the money is taken for this purpose. Now that IS Socialism.

    True, this is socialism for the rich aka crony capitalism. So economist George Reisman rightly notes that it is dishonest to blame the free market for the recession, since America is light years from one (The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Present Crisis.

    So why would you support the same thing for health? Why not instead implement Dr Krauthammer’s three reforms?

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  18. Darrell,

    I have to agree with Bill and Jono. Government run healthcare (like government run anything) results in a massive self-perpetuating bureaucracy that wastes millions/billions and delivers an overall poor level of healthcare.

    The govt also uses dirty tricks to fool people. The govt health service guarantees that people will wait no more than 2 years for voluntary surgery. But that wait doesn’t begin until the surgery is authorised by a specialist, and you need a referral to see a specialist. Therefore, the govt health service holds back on referrals to get around the 2 year max wait!

    They also proclaim that they have increased the number of elective procedures and that this is a measure of improved performance, efficiency etc. But what this means is that they simply push through more simple low cost procedures like cataract surgery. Bad lack if you need a hip replacement!

    Govts (especially Labor) also love centralised showcase hospitals and clinics ie. “super” hospitals, that they can show off and present as being state of the art etc. but this means the scaling back and closing down of other hospitals in the burbs and especially in regional centres. Birthing units in 2 of Adelaide’s major public hospitals have now shutdown because of this mentality.

    As for compassion, it is common knowledge among those who deal with public servants and govt depts (especially where they are the monopoly service provider) that they are generally the least caring and compassionate. Apart from the odd exceptional person who really does care, there is no motivation or market pressure to provide a superior service.

    Govts are crap at running everything Darrell. If they cannot even run a grocery price monitoring website, what makes you think they can possibly run a complex health/hospital system?

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  19. Jonathon

    With all those great intellectual contributions I think you have left out the best – His Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Truly outstanding work.

    I particularly liked his take on the state of blacks in America today. He explains their state – through the influence of white “cracker” culture from the south – that undercuts any racist appeals to genetics or leftist appeals to western “discimination” and “racism” or the after-effects of slavery. Their plight is the result of bad cultural practices and attitudes that have been encouraged since the 60’s civil rights movements, nothing more.

    Damien Spillane

  20. Hi Bill, Andrew & Jonathan,

    I know we are all busy, and probably shouldn’t be spending our time writing each other like this 🙂 So please feel free to answer this via e-mail. It’s more private that way too 🙂 I know ‘m going to cop some trouble for writing this, but here goes….:)

    I am writing for one reason – to flesh out a Biblical view of the role of government in a fallen world…and specifically the role of government in regards to health care. My question is whether health care should be viewed – and funded – in the same way that taxes fund the fire department, roads, sewers, airport security, military, police etc. I have yet to hear your response to this primary question. Jesus endorsed taxation as part of Caesar’s role, so my question is whether the Bible teaches a view that health care should be funded through taxation, or through market mechanisms?

    The Bible is very specific in outlining the role of Government in regards to the poor, oppressed, intimidated etc. Read Psalm 72, for example, concening the job description of a righteous King.

    To make it perfectly clear, I do not conside myself a “Socialist”, nor do I promite Socialism in any form. You guys know that. I am arguing, however, that taxpayer funded health services do not equal Socialism. Also, I am not pro-Canadian, pro American or pro Australian in any issue that is not Biblical. I want to see things through God’s eyes, that’s all.

    Here are my basic arguments, and replies to your points:
    1) I see health care as a community service, like police, so should be funded through taxation, not the laissez-faire system. I see this in Psalm 72, concerning the poor.
    2) The free market/laissez-faire health care system can be seen operating in many countries, like Indonesia, & India. The rich live, the less wealthy/unfortunate die there becasue they cannot afford treatment. Could taxation help, if Indonesians all agreed to pay higher taxes?
    3) Jonathan, I voluntarily vote to elect a government In Canada (& Australia )whose policies include funding health care & hospitals etc. We freely choose, therefore, to elect a government that will increase our taxes, and use them so that others may be helped. You do the same in Australia. So in that sense, taxes are voluntary.
    4) Bill, it is irrelevant in this discussion that some Canadians go to the US for operations. Millions of Americans buy drugs from Canada via the internet, and whole US cities purchase their medicine from Canada because the price is better. In addition, many Americans go to Singapore and even India for operations becasue the price is better. I have American friends who went to NZ and paid full price for an operation because it was half the price of that in the USA. These are not proofs of anything, except frugality, and efficiency.
    5) Bill, my original point was…why leave Australia as an example out of your article on the “horrendous failures” of “socialized” medicine, preferring to use only Canada and Britain as examples? Doesn’t Australia have essentially the same system? TO be fair, your article should list some of these other “failures” so we can discuss them.
    6) Andrew, your argument is essentially founded on efficiency. But, can’t we improve our efficiency?. Should Chistians despise everything “government” provides through taxation?
    7) Bill, you have voted with your feet too. You live in Australia, benefitting from the health care provision of tax payers, as do Andrew & Jonathan. If Christians indeed have a Biblical conviction that government funded health care is wrong, should they pay back the government for what they have used?
    8) Bill, I certainly DO NOT support Obamacare, primarily because it has yet to be defined in details, but also because it has funding for partial birth abortions.
    9) And finally, with all due respect, all three of you have yet to answer the primary question of what is a Biblical view of health care, and whether this responsibility lies within the role of Government, as manager. It is no argument to simply point out some weaknesses of the taxpayer funded system, as though weaknesses are proof of failure. Every government, church and ministry has weaknesses, but these are not signs of “horrendous failure.” An old saying is….We shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

    To develop a Biblical worldview, then – which is primarily my reason for writing – I would really love an answer to the question of why efficiency as a value should trump community service in a Biblical worldview?

    Let me know your thoughts. No rhetoric or intimidation, please 🙂 Give me some arguments.
    Darrell Furgason, Canada

  21. Thanks Darrell

    But I cannot give you a biblical view of health care in what is supposed to be a short comment! I would be hard pressed to even do it in an article. A whole book maybe. But in the meantime I can address the points you have raised. However, I have to go out for a while so stay tuned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. Bill, as you said, the entire health view is a bit complex, but the core/seed is simple: if God tells you to not do something, don’t do it.

    There is much in the OT which is disregarded because it’s “Moses’ Law” but some exemplary rules were known by Noah & treated as law, plus confusing the real laws given through Moses with the core Law of God read directly the the people by God is another common blunder. Yet some Law was definitely written off by Christ’s physical manifestation, so should be disregarded. As with essentially everything else, the more real care you put into it, the better your results will be.

    Leon Brooks

  23. I’ve also been contemplating the question of a biblical view of health care. A phrase that is often heard from those who promote a government or socialised form of health care is that “everyone has a ‘right’ to health care”, but is this a God-given right? Certainly there is a biblical right to life, but is there a biblical right to universal health care? I doubt it myself, but how one answers that question would largely determine how they answer the question of what is the government’s role in health care?

    It seems to me that the biblical model of government being responsible for protecting life, liberty and (private) property, could at a stretch encompass the concept of providing public health care, but again it depends how broadly we define the right to life. Anyway, I am interested what others think about this.

    Ewan McDonald.

  24. Many so called “rights” are really impositions on others. A “right” to housing means that someone else has money forcibly taken from him to provide it.

    Darrell has an Orwellian definition of “voluntary” applying to a tax which must be paid or else you’ll be forcibly locked up. Compulsion by the majority is not “voluntary”.

    Certainly the Bible talks about helping the poor. It does NOT talk about bloated government bureaucracies taking over half people’s income and giving a pittance of that to the poor, while taking a 75% cut, as happens with modern welfare. Thus one could give every poor person enough to lift him out of poverty for a fraction of the cost of welfare bureaucracies.

    And it would be more compassionate than having faceless bureaucrats administer it. Libertarian John Stossel writes:

    I once thought there was too much poverty for private charity to make much of a difference. Now I realize that private charity would do much more — if government hadn’t crowded it out. In the 1920s — the last decade before the Roosevelt administration launched its campaign to federalize nearly everything — 30 percent of American men belonged to mutual aid societies, groups of people with similar backgrounds who banded together to help members in trouble. They were especially common among minorities.

    Mutual aid societies paid for doctors, built orphanages and cooked for the poor. Neighbors knew best what neighbors needed. They were better at making judgments about who needs a handout and who needed a kick in the rear. They helped the helpless, but administered tough love to the rest. They taught self-sufficiency.

    Mutual aid didn’t solve every problem, so government stepped in. But government didn’t solve every problem either. Instead, it caused more problems by driving private charity out. Today, there are fewer mutual-aid societies, because people say, “We already pay taxes for HUD, HHS. Let the professionals do it.” Big Government tells both the poor and those who would help them, “Don’t try.”

    “Millions of Americans buy drugs from Canada via the internet, and whole US cities purchase their medicine from Canada because the price is better.”

    Of course: because Canada buys the drugs cheap from America. But note that America is about the only country developing new drugs, precisely because they allow the companies to make some profit. This is necessary, because the government interference means that it costs $800 million to develop a new drug, so the companies must profit or else they will go under. Prevent this profit making, and good bye to new drugs—as in Canada with its price controls. Sowell has a brief article on it, and more in his economic books.

    It is no argument to simply point out some weaknesses of the taxpayer funded system, as though weaknesses are proof of failure.

    But when the weaknesses are endemic to the system, they are. As Yes Minister shows in satirical form, and Sowell’s book Knowledge and Decisions shows in serious detail, bureaucrats and politicians are human too with their own incentives. So it is not surprising that they want to increase their own power, including the power to ration health care, including waiting lists.

    It’s just like the lefties who blame Stalin for the problems of the Soviet Union. They never think that communism creates the conditions for the rise of Stalins. This should not be surprising: forcible wealth distribution requires a very powerful central government to enforce that, so this attracts those who lust for that sort of power.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  25. Thanks again Darrell

    Let me give some brief replies to your points.

    1 It may be a community concern, but the real question is, what is the best way to deal with it? Through bloated and inefficient government bureaucracies, or through an admittedly imperfect free-market? All things considered, I vote for the latter.

    2 I question how much of a free-market system we have working there, and we must also point out government corruption and general inabilities to function as well in such nations. So why point to them?

    3 I don’t know of any taxpayer who has ‘voluntarily’ voted for more taxation. Government bureaucrats do that.

    4 You make my very point: people vote with their feet, and will go wherever they think they are getting a better deal. That indeed is democracy and the free-market in action, despite all the government interference in both countries.

    5 The failures can be gleaned from any day’s newspapers. Here in Australia on almost a daily basis we read of horror stories of the socialised (public) health care system. You might as well ask me to provide evidence that people are sinners Darrell! The evidence is all around us.

    6 Read Romans 13 for starters Darrell. There is of course a place for government. God ordained it. The question is how far should its reach extend.

    7 Sorry this is a complete non sequitur, as well as untrue. I did not come here in order to make use of the Australian health care system. I came here because my wife is Australian.

    8 Good to hear that you don’t support it, but you are wrong to say we do not have the details. We do have all the details – some 4000-plus pages all up. It is exactly for this reason – that we have the details – that we reject it. It is bad news in so many areas, not least of which is abortion funding.

    9 I already said, a theology of health care is not something you spout off in a 50-word comment. Whole books can be written on this. I certainly do not claim to be an authority on heath care, but I take it neither are you. But yes, by all means, let us think and pray and study more to see what such a biblical system might look like in actual practice. Of course in a fallen world it will never be fully realised or implemented, but some systems might be closer to the biblical ideal than others.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  26. Hi Darrell,

    We have only one example in recorded history where God set up a state and explicitly gave it its laws, and that is ancient Israel. If government funded and controlled health care is such a good idea, why didn’t god prescribe it for Israel? Differences in technology and lifestyle really don’t explain this.

    What god did prescribe for Israel were laws, associated penalties and judicial principles (hence a judicial system), provision for witnesses to bring criminals before the judiciary (hence a police force), and expected service in the military. Note also that some of these functions don’t even seem to have been intended to be tax-funded but voluntary.

    This is exactly the same description of the role of the civil government given in the Romans 13:
    “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rom 13:4
    Note that this verse assumes that wrongdoing has been defined. Therefore the only function of the civil government is to uphold God’s law.

    I’m afraid I see your suggestion that Psalm 72 suggests government involvement in healthcare as a gross example of eisegesis. The whole theme of the Psalm is upholding justice (i.e. God’s law):

    Verses 1 and 2 set the scene:
    Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.

    The remaining verses are clearly the implications which will flow from the King upholding justice. The weak and needy will be helped because the country will be prosperous (v3), and the weak and the needy will be saved from oppression and violence (v14).

    Mansel Rogerson

  27. Gentlemen,

    Thank you all for your contributions to this discussion. I have appreciated the interaction, despite the fact that my question still remains unanswered – why should health care not be funded through taxation, like the police, fire and other community service departments? No one yet has addressed this question.

    And secondly, what is Biblical about a free market health care system? (I am, of course, in agreement that a free market economy (with justice) is Biblical). The free market system may indeed be EFFICIENT, but I have argued that efficiency as a value does not trump community. No one has adressed that yet either.

    In conclusion, I am not persuaded by your arguments that the Biblical view of government excludes a tax based health system, any more than it excludes a tax payer funded police or fire department. You may not be persuaded by my arguments either. 🙂 But one thing is certain. You will all eventually visit a doctor there in Australia, and thus benefit from/and enjoy a health system that is tax payer funded. Spare a thought for the billions worldwide who would love to have that opportunity.

    Good night, and God bless,
    Darrell Furgason, Canada

  28. Thanks again Darrell

    Let me paraphrase you: “what is Biblical about a socialised health care system?”

    And it does absolutely no good at all to talk about community trumping efficiency, if government inefficiencies end up doing little or no good for the community.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  29. Darrell, there’s one remark you made earlier that nobody else addressed that I thought deserved a response. It has nothing to do with the core question you ask but I thought it shouldn’t go unanswered.

    You said: “If Christians indeed have a Biblical conviction that government funded health care is wrong, should they pay back the government for what they have used?”

    The obvious come-back would be to say, “Yes I will but the government first has to give me back the taxes it took from me to pay for the health care in the first place. I don’t want to have to pay for it twice!”

    Ewan McDonald.

  30. I agree Ewan. In fact, the government would have to pay back to me far far more than any amount I would need to pay back to it, given that the amount of tax I have paid would far exceed by an order of magnitude the amounts I received from govt sponsored healthcare.
    Andrew Kulikovsky

  31. I second the notion that giving to the poor is best done by private individuals and institutions.

    Just look at the magnificence of private charity in the work of separating the Bangladeshi twins, Trishna and Krishna. Many Australians contributed to total donations (as well as surgeons donating their time) in the hundreds of thousands for two orphans from a foreign country and different race. They also grabbed the hearts and attention of the Australian population who were desperate to see them pull through.

    As Andrew Bolt points out, it was an act of charity that our politicians were unwilling to do.

    His whole piece is well worth reading for the story it tells of the power of private charity and how generous and racially colour-blind are Australians. This is the feat – and the accompanied good-will and altruism – that no governmental forcible redistribution of wealth could come close to achieving.

    Damien Spillane

  32. Dr Furgason

    “…but I have argued that efficiency as a value does not trump community.”

    But why assume that ‘community’ and government welfare provision are synonymous? Why conflate community with the state?

    Look at the magnificent act of benevolence and good-will wrought by the Bangladeshi Siamese twins Krishna and Trishna? This is real community in action.

    Compare that to the entitlement mentality and resentment that the welfare state brings. There is no altruism, generosity, good-will or benevolence when someone’s wealth is forced from them and given somewhat to people in need (and many that are not) and mostly to government bureaucrats.

    There is also no personal responsibility or virtue demanded of the recipients in response which is why the welfare state incentives those that don’t work, abuse drugs and live irresponsibly as the British Psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple has so elegantly documented.

    Is this sought of society, pitting neighbour against neighbour, what you call community?

    Damien Spillane

  33. Dr Furgason

    Of course, how fantastic that Canada can make drugs so cheap to their consumers by government fiat and look so generous compared to the big bad pharma companies in the US!

    But Canada isn’t the ones making the drugs in the first place. The US companies make the drugs (at about a billion in R & D per new drug) so that they can reap back the expenses and make a profit for the money they initially invested. If they can’t charge market price then they simply won’t produce the drug and Canada will not have new drugs to impose price controls on.

    You say

    “The free market/laissez-faire health care system can be seen operating in many countries, like Indonesia, & India”

    India having free market/laissez-faire? I don’t know their system extremely well but this is got to be ridiculous.

    If they had a free-market system then they wouldn’t have (until recently) ridiculously high tariffs (really nothing more than a tax on imports) on medicine. Tariffs are known to be one of the major ways that the poor in third-world countries are denied essential medicine and India is no different.

    For example, with AIDS studies show that India has only around 20,000 to 36,000 with access to antiretroviral therapy (a pathetically low number), where Botswana, with low tariffs and taxes on pharmaceutical products, has the best access to medication for its AIDS patients in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

    So in many cases in poor countries it is government taxes, import restrictions and tariffs (not to mention the poor infrastructure and services) that are denying the poor their access to health care.

    Damien Spillane

  34. Dr Darrell Furgason I agree with you 100%.

    Bill, as a natural born Australian, please accept my apologies for having to “endure” the “horror stories of the socialised (public) health care system”, here in Australia.
    The thing is you see, we’re not America, I am sorry…….I suppose there are no “Horror Stories” over there right? Must be fantastic!!
    You must miss it terribly….

    Our Health care is no ordinary commodity. It is a ministry to maintain the very life & wellbeing of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, especially the poorer ones. That is why its called a Common-wealth. I for one am happy to pay more tax for it.

    Noblesse oblige

    Robert Phillips

  35. Thanks Robert

    But simply throwing out a few smart-arse remarks adds nothing to this debate. I have already said plenty of times now that the US system is far from perfect, and clearly is in need of reform. The question is, which is the best type of reform: more or less government involvement?

    As to the Australian system, all your remarks demonstrate is that you are lucky enough not yet to have waited for two years for major surgery, or sat on a stretcher in a public hospital hallway for 24 hours. Aside from that you bring nothing to this debate. If you expect to have comments posted here in the future, at a minimum, an intelligent contribution to the discussion will be required, instead of ad hominem foolishness.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  36. Darrell asks, “what is Biblical about a free market health care system?” I ask, what is biblical about democracy? The American founders specifically rejected democracy, precisely because it could turn out to be a tyranny of the majority; e.g. 51% of people could vote to take the wealth of the 49%. So they instituted certain measures to thwart majority rule, e.g. the Electoral College, Senate, three branches of government to check each other, presidential veto that needs a supermajority to over-rule, constitutional restrictions on Congress’ authority. Note that Hitler and Hamas were elected democratically.

    The US subsidizes (without taxpayer approval ) many inefficient industries – wheat, cotton, automobiles, lumber, rice….and now the banks. No one gets to vote on whether the money is taken for this purpose. Now that IS Socialism.

    This is actually a result of people thinking that the command “do not steal” has an exception, “unless you have a majority vote”. Thus there is a faulty principle, voted democratically, that the government has the right to regulate free buyers and sellers. But then you should not be surprised that the first thing bought is the regulator.

    It should not be surprising: an inefficient industry stands to gain millions of dollars by spending on lobbying for government force against competitors. But the higher costs on consumers are spread out over millions of people, who are not too badly inconvenienced, so have little incentive to combine and lobby. It’s called concentrated benefits v diffused costs.

    The other huge problem is that the benefits are easily seen, i.e. more jobs in the protected industries, and the more money they have to spend in the economy. But what it not seen is the far more jobs lost in industries using the protected products. E.g. American sugar tariffs, thanx to political lobbying, cause Americans to pay several times the world price for sugar. And they caused Lifesavers to move to Canada. Also, the higher prices mean less money for consumers to spend on other goods, so these are further unseen costs that most won’t blame on tariffs. (See What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen by Frédéric Bastiat, 1850).

    The only answer is not to whinge about corruption and lobbying, because the incentives make it inevitable, but to get the government out of the economy altogether (except preventing coercion and fraud, and enforcing contracts).

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  37. Melanie Phillips has a very pertinent article on these issues on her website titled “A Diminishing Ethic of Care”. Not only has the British NHS service been failing to provide adequate care for patients but the regulatory arm of the government that is supposed to ensure proper standards are met has failed miserably.

    She points out the sorry state of so much health care provision in the UK NHS

    “Figures published in the latest Hospital Guide from the part-NHS, part-private Dr Foster organisation show that 12 hospital trusts including those with ‘foundation’ status are ’significantly underperforming’ — including nine which had been rated good or even excellent by the NHS watchdog, the Care Quality Commission.

    A further 27 are said by Dr Foster to have had unusually high mortality rates, generally considered a warning sign of care or treatment inadequacies.

    True, comparative statistics like these are a minefield, and using death rates as a marker of performance can be misleading. But only a few days ago, horrific conditions were revealed at Basildon NHS Trust — which Dr Foster states has the worst mortality rates in the country.

    Care Quality Commission inspectors found blood-spattered walls and filthy conditions with brown running water, mouldy bathrooms and soiled furniture and commodes.”

    The really interesting bit was the inability and unwillingness of the health departments and bureaucrats to keep an eye on their own level of performance or lack of;

    “And the more regulation there is, the worse things have got.

    Foundation hospitals, after all, have their very own regulator called Monitor. This is said to be scrutinising the eight foundation trusts which have failed to reach basic standards. But what has Monitor been doing all this time while patients at these hospitals have been dying needlessly?

    Then there’s the Care Quality Commission itself. Eight NHS trusts among Dr Foster’s 12 worst performers were recently judged by the Commission to be ‘good’ or even ‘excellent’ in its Annual Health Check ratings.

    Even now its head, the Labour place-woman Baroness Young, says no further action is necessary against the 12 trusts and that some of Dr Foster’s data is ‘alarmist’.

    Yet she also acknowledges that some information published by her Commission is up to 18 months out of date. And although her inspectors uncovered appalling neglect at Basildon, the Commission previously rated that Trust as ‘good’ for its quality of service and ‘excellent’ for its financial management.

    Now Lady Young says the current inspection regime is ’simplistic’. For that, read ‘ludicrously self-serving’. Incredibly, it turns out the ratings given to hospitals rely on their own assessment of their performance.

    So at Basildon, managers gave themselves — grotesquely — 13 out of 14 possible marks for cleanliness and performance, while the Alder Hey Trust declared itself the ‘best in the country’.

    To cap it all, the chief executives of the eight trusts with the highest death rates awarded themselves bumper pay rises to suit their scandalous self-regard.

    And the Care Quality Commission missed what was actually going on because they, too, relied upon these patently unreliable judgments.”

    She highlights what is already obvious about government behaviour; their priority is self-preservation and re-election, not adequate and professional health care.

    Damien Spillane

  38. It may be worth updating on the current madness infecting the US government. Faced with the simple fact that the people simply don’t want what they are trying to sell, the Democrats are doing all they can to ram Heath Insurance reform down the collective throats of the American people, including blatantly ignoring basic constitutional rules on voting for bills. That this is even being considered is unbelievable. There really are tyrants in power in Washington at the moment.

    Mark Rabich

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