In Praise Of A Market Based Health Care System

Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, writes in the The Washington Times:

Twenty years of public policy research on health care recently came home to me in a very personal way when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Because I live in a country with a free-market health-care system, I had a choice of treatments: surgery, external radiation, brachytherapy. I was able to find the doctor and hospital I felt most comfortable with. As a result, I can expect to live a long, healthy, cancer-free life.

If I lived elsewhere, this might not have been the outcome.

In most countries with national health insurance, the preferred treatment for prostate cancer is … to do nothing.

Prostate cancer is a slow-moving disease. Most patients are older and will live several years after diagnosis. So it is not cost-effective under socialized medicine to treat the disease too aggressively. This saves money, but at a more human cost.

Though American men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than their counterparts in other countries, we are less likely to die from the disease. Less than 1 in 5 American men with prostate cancer will die from it, but 57 percent of British men and nearly half of French and German men will. Even in Canada, a quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer die from the disease.

Why is this so? It is because of the economics inherent in a nationalized health care system, that’s why.

The one common characteristic of all national health-care systems is that they ration care. Sometimes they ration it explicitly, denying certain types of treatment altogether. More often, they ration more indirectly, imposing global budgets or other cost constraints that limit availability of high-tech medical equipment or impose long waits for treatments.

Nobody believes that a market based health care system is perfect, but it is safe to say that a nationalized health care system is much farther from perfect than a market based one.


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