Myths are stories or beliefs that lack a factual foundation. Though untrue, they take on an aura of truth and the more they are repeated, separating fact from fiction becomes nearly impossible. Most myths are harmless, but not all.
In a recent article on health care reform, Michael D. Tanner, a University of Georgia grad and a Fellow at the respected Cato Institute, posited that the health care debate in America is a breeding ground for misinformation and misconceptions. He said that advocates of a government-run, national health care system would do most anything to frighten Americans and discredit consumer-directed health care. In his article, he listed a few of the major myths of health care reform and debunked them.
The first is that America spends too much on health care, more than any other country in the world, which is true. The myth is that this is somehow bad. It isn’t. There is no “right amount” to spend on anything. we also spend more than any other country on athletic shoes, but no one says we have an athletic shoe crisis.
Wealthy nations just naturally devote more of their resources to health care. Poor countries wish they could. Economists call health care a “normal good,” meaning that spending rises and falls with income. As incomes rise, people demand more and better health care.
The real problem is that the people spending the money are not the ones paying the bills. They are passed on to third parties, where the usual market disciplines don’t apply, meaning there are few if any free market forces in medicine.
The second myth that the U.S. spends more but gets less. There are many rebuttals to this misconception, but one stands out. If you are diagnosed with a serious illness, the United States is the place you want to be. Tens of thousands of patients from around the world come to this country every year for treatment. They do not go to Cuba and they do not go to Great Britain. There is a reason. We spend more and we get more — exponentially.
Finally, the monster myth: A government-run health care system would expand access to care. The evidence here is overwhelming. Even proponents of socialized medicine agree that the one common trait of all national health plans is that they ration care, not directly, like telling an elderly patient they cannot get that hip replacement they need to walk, but indirectly, by imposing cost constraints, waiting periods, lack of skilled personnel and limited technology (the latter two are usually true).
Michael Moore did not tell you in his little movie that, at any given time, one million Britons are waiting for admission to a hospital or that shortages force the British National Health Service to cancel as many as 100,000 surgeries each year or that 90,000 New Zealanders and 800,000 Canadians are always on a waiting list to get medical procedures or that in Sweden, you would wait 25 weeks or longer for heart surgery.
It is not a myth that America has a health care financing crisis, because we surely do. But, instead of perpetuating false truths and false hopes, people like Michael Tanner, Newt Gingrich and others are coming up with solutions, while Moore and some politicians are peddling snake oil. The question is who will capture the attention of the American people and thus their elected officials? My money is still on the capitalist solution, but for now, the mean-spirited Moore and others of his ilk appear to be gaining ground.
George Israel is the president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.