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Why U.S. Health Care Leads the Way

Written on Friday, September 9, 2011 by


A few weeks ago, I had what seemed to me a small medical problem, so I phoned my primary physician. However, after we discussed the problem, he directed me to a specialist.

After the specialist examined me, he directed me to a different specialist elsewhere. When I was examined and tested in the second specialist’s office, he immediately phoned a hospital, asking to have an operating room available in an hour.

No more than 5 hours elapsed between my seeing the first specialist and the time when I was on an operating table.

This was quite a contrast with what happens in countries with government-run medical systems. In such countries, it is not uncommon to have to wait days to see a physician, weeks to see a specialist and months before you can have an operation. It is very doubtful whether I would have lasted that long.

In the intensive care unit, where I was sent after the first of two operations, I was hooked up to high-tech machines and had a small army of people looking after me around the clock. Would a government-run medical system have provided all this, especially for a man in his eighties?

In some countries with government-run medical systems, individuals are not even permitted to pay out of their own pockets for medications that the government has ruled are too expensive for people in their age bracket or medical condition.

That same mindset has already become evident in the United States, where a very expensive cancer drug has been refused federal approval to be sold, because it helps only a limited number of people and at very high costs.

But what if you are one of those limited numbers of people — and you are willing to pay what it costs, with your own money?

You are free to take your life’s savings and gamble it away in a casino, if you want to — but you are not free to use your life’s savings to save your life.

This is not an isolated paradox. This is the logical consequence of a vision of the world that prevails all too widely among the intelligentsia, and not just as regards medical care.

In that vision, people can draw on the available resources only to the extent that the government considers appropriate, in the light of other claims on those resources. This treats what the people have produced as if it automatically belongs to the government — and as if politicians and bureaucrats have both the right and the wisdom to override the personal decisions that the people want to make for themselves.

This issue involves a difference between a world in which people can make their own decisions with their own money and a world in which decisions — including life and death medical decisions — are taken out of the hands of millions of people across the country and put into the hands of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.

One of the big claims for government-run medical systems is that they can “bring down the cost of medical care.” But anyone can bring down the cost of anything by simply buying a smaller quantity or a lower quality.

That is why countries with government-run medical systems have waiting lists to see doctors, and even longer waiting lists to see specialists or to get an operation. That is why those countries seldom have as many high-tech medical devices as in the United States or use the newest medications as often.

In those things that are crucially affected by medical care, such as cancer survival rates, the United States leads the way. In things that doctors can do little about — such as obesity, homicide or drug addiction — Americans shorten their own lives, more so than people in other comparable societies.

This enables advocates of government-run medical care to cite longevity statistics, in order to claim that our more expensive medical system is less effective, since Americans’ longevity does not compare favorably with that in other comparable societies.

For those who think in terms of scoring talking points — as distinguished from trying to get at the truth — this kind of argument may sound good. But should something as serious as life and death medical issues be discussed in terms of misleading talking points?

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is


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  • Marcia Greenshields

    We don’t have the best medical system. We have a drug-based, illness-maintenance system, not a go-natural, get healthy system. Drugs don’t heal. Whole foods, especially whole food supplements. Seniors like me can’t get help with supplements to become and remain healthy, but we can get drugs. Doesn’t make sense. Natural medicine and homeopathy should be allowed into the system to show the benefits of a non-drug system. Maybe you want operations…I don’t!

    • Ragnar

      Good for you Marcia. Don’t take any drugs, don’t use any high-tech medical equipment, and especially don’t have any surgeries. Just keep eating your healthy food and prove us all wrong by saving all that Medicare money. Good luck

    • LadyLiberty

      Marcia, I think you mean we should have a more preventative type of system; which usually means diet and exercise. Doctor’s used to be more like that years ago.

      Now the drug companies make great new drugs; and I want to get good drugs when I really need them. Both have their place and should not be abused.

  • ExArmyMP

    Obamacare was NEVER about health care. It was, and always will be, about POWER!

    • June

      Obummer care is about power and control and nothing else anyone who says otherwise is a fool. If you voted for Obummer in 2008 to prove you were not a racist and to make yourself feel good in 2012 you will have to vote for anyone else to prove you are not an idiot.

    • Bishop, Robert Hannah


    • am2sweet

      Exactly right ExArmyMP. It’s getting all of us under Obama’s thumb where we can’t do anything to help ourselves. Sad but it’s what the elites want since most are wanting this country run like Russia. They want us all to be slaves.

    • Candyman

      Isn’t it interesting that the countries where all of these programs were implemented are now working on going the other way and trying to get where we used to be before “Big Brother” tried to protect all of us. Remember the example of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau who had to come to the US for medical coverage he couldn’t get in his own country, even though he had the position of PM.

  • gerald

    The people that you worship and or idolize play god with the people that they are to be helping,by refuseing surgery,allowing them to get worse.They are taught at least one lie, the lie that i know they believe is that surgery with mesh is right.I had surgery with out mesh, lasted over 20 years.With mesh, need surgery to have taken because it is foreign to the body,causeing daily pain,damage as long as in.

  • Whackajig

    Was the operation successful, or are you writing from the great beyond?

    America’s health care leads the way, very simply because we are better at everything we do, especially health care.

    Repeal o-vomitcare.

  • EH


  • http://PatriotUpdate Ruben alvarez

    Health Issues
    September 9, 2011

    No Health Care Tax Credit via Federal Exchanges?
    Because of a quirk in the new health care law (“ObamaCare”), people who buy health insurance through a federally run exchange may not be eligible for premium subsidies, says Investor’s Business Daily (IBD).

    Government-created exchanges are places for individuals to shop and purchase health insurance.
    ObamaCare will require individuals and families to buy insurance, starting in 2014.
    Those with incomes at 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for a tax credit to help pay for the premium.
    But it turns out that the legislation isn’t so clear — the latest example of what analysts predicted would be a stream of surprises from the mammoth health law.

    Section 1311 of ObamaCare instructs state governments to set up an exchange.
    If a state refuses, Section 1321 lets the federal government establish an exchange in the state.
    Yet ObamaCare states that the tax credit is available to people who are enrolled in an “an exchange established by the state under (Section) 1311.”
    It makes no mention of people enrolled in federal exchanges being eligible for the tax credit.
    This could be a big problem, as some states probably won’t set up and run exchanges. Governors in Alaska, Florida, Louisiana and Texas have said they won’t. Kansas and Oklahoma have also signaled they won’t by returning federal funds meant to be used to establish an exchange. Other states seem to be dragging their feet.

    States could be left with disgruntled residents who can’t tap tax credits to help pay for insurance they’re forced to buy, says IBD.

    Source: David Hogberg, “Oops! No ObamaCare Tax Credit via Federal Exchanges?” Investor’s Business Daily, September 7, 2011.

    • daves

      Well I guess those folks better vote in new Governors.

    • Charles

      A better idea, vote in a new President and repeal the Obominablecare law.

  • armyvet

    We have lost all control of our country. It is run by crooked politicians who have no regard for the common people. You notice, they have opted out of Obamacare that they have forced on you and me. Why? They know it is worthless, they have a wonderful plan paid for by YOU & ME!!! We are the suckers.

    • Charles

      The Politicians may have opted out of the Obominablecare plan, but they left intact the huge fines, prison terms, and loss of license for Physicians who do not adhere to the Obominablecare restrictive treatment schedule and options. So where will the Politicians go for care, if better care is illegal? It is estimated that 50% of Physicians will quit practice under these restrictions and the proposed fee schedule. I already know Physicians and Students accepted for Med School, who have opted out for other careers. Unintended results of Obominablecare plan?

  • Adrian Vance

    Very true. I had a friend in England who needed a heart bypass surgery and was very happy it would not cost him anything, but he had to wait 18 months to get it. During that time he deteriorated and did not survive the surgery.

    The Two Minute Conservative at gives sharp analysis, science and humor every day. Now on Kindle.

  • paul

    I do not agree with the author.
    The american health system may be more
    advanced than some others. However, if you have good insurance, you will not be able to see the best doctors or
    be admitted to the best hospital. However, you can always pay cash if you got it. I have a relative in canada, recently died of brain cancer.
    He was treated for three years so far.
    In america, he would be in financial
    ruin. No health system is perfect. we are all trying.

  • Buck

    Our highly esteemed government is trying desparately to change all that and it is certainly not for the better . Thomas Sowell for President .

  • daves

    I thought U.S. Health Care Leads the Way because the Government funds so much of the research.