State-Run Medicine Fails More Patients

One of the most interesting properties of government is that whenever it does something, it has unintended consequences running as ripple effects through the economy. Those effects are then taken as reasons for government to get even more involved in our lives with new taxes, fees and regulations. A story from Euractiv.com on the European health care system provides an excellent example:

Austerity-hit member states must avoid deepening inequality when cutting their healthcare budgets, the European Commission said at the European Health Forum in Austria. As a result of the financial and economic crisis, many EU countries have reduced their healthcare budgets, leading to an overall drop in expenditure in the sector for the first time in decades.

Was no one in Brussels highly paid enough to figure that out before they went on an austerity crusade? This is the most easily predictable effect of the austerity policies that those same Eurocrats have been pursuing for five years now. Even a four-year-old can figure out that if he and his three friends have eight jelly beans to share today but only six tomorrow, there is going to be less for each and everyone of them.

After having used austerity to create resource scarcity in the single-payer health care systems across the EU, the Eurocrats in Brussels now see an excellent chance to take their involvement in people’s lives to the next level. Euractiv again:

Speaking at a panel discussion on Wednesday (2 October) in Gastein, Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the European Commission’s health and consumer policy directorate (DG Sanco)…

How is that for a title? Don’t you Europeans feel just awesome waking up every morning knowing that your hard-earned tax money goes to pay for a director general of the European Commission’s health and consumer policy directorate?

…said member states had good reasons to make their healthcare systems more cost-effective and sustainable. But they should also be aware of the social consequences. “We need to maintain the access to universal healthcare services which exists as an obligation in our treaty under human rights. All European citizens have the right to access healthcare of good quality. But we know that this in fact is not the real situation for all the member states,” Testori Coggi said.

No kidding? Resource scarcity in socialized health care systems is a long-lasting phenomenon. The OECD has studied the problem numerous times, such as in this paper from 2004. In recent years EU states with socialized systems have introduced various policies to “shorten” their waiting lists, but in reality all they have done is shuffle around the same scarce resources, sending physicians and nurses to patients in the longest lines. While they work down orthopedic waiting lists, patients waiting for ear surgery form a new waiting list to which everyone is sent running as soon as the orthopedic wait list has shrunk a bit.

This whack’em’all version of health care is neither efficient nor sustainable. The root cause of the problem remains: patients are not allowed to buy health care – cash or through private insurance – directly from providers, without the involvement of tax-paid bureaucrats.

Back to Euractiv:

Groups that were already vulnerable before the crisis, such as undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, drug users, sex workers, destitute European citizens and homeless people, have seen a reduction in social safety nets which provide them with basic help.

Why? Because those groups are the ones that benefit from the welfare state. It is for whom the core of the welfare state was built. If you cut services that the welfare state provides without giving the private sector a fighting chance to replace them, then it is only logical that the groups mentioned will suffer.

That said, replacing spending cuts with higher taxes would not protect those groups either. The higher taxes would increase the ranks of the unemployed; at the far end of the unemployment lines, those who have been without work the longest will be thrown out of the system and end up among the “destitute” – i.e., the desperately poor. Demand for poverty-relief programs would increase and cause the same funding imbalance that the system is now wrestling with, only with more people being harmed. The Euractiv story agrees:

Among the patients visiting clinics at the humanitarian organisation Doctors of the World, 20% have reported being denied access to healthcare services in the last 12 months, with 62% of those occurring in Spain. In Greece, before the crisis most of the patients visiting Doctors of the World’s clinics were migrants with little or no financial means. But in the last year, almost half of the patients were Greek citizens who could no longer afford healthcare services.

And this in a country with a socialized health care system! The costs that people cannot afford are usually what Americans know as co-pays on their private insurances, only in European countries the co-pays come on top of income taxes typically one and a half to two times higher than what they are here in America.

In other words, single-payer health care systems cannot afford to provide all the health care they promise people. Unless a single-payer health care system can actually deliver the health care it has promised, then governments can issue whatever rights declarations they want – including the aforementioned EU human rights declaration about health care. Without a physician there to provide health care, that right is not worth more than the paper it is written on.

So, as the Euractiv article explains, when resources in Europe’s single-payer systems become even more scarce, the immediate reaction from the Eurocracy is not to question government’s wet-blanket involvement, but to try and micromanage who gets what of the shrinking pie:

Testori Coggi emphasised that member states should focus on the aspects of health with certain social consequences: nutrition, use of alcohol, tobacco and physical activity. “We need to reduce inequality in Europe because this contributes to social cohesion and helps to reduce poverty,” she stressed.

Single-payer systems were created precisely to eradicate so called inequalities in access to health care. Half a century or so after most of Europe had socialized their health care systems, tax-paid bureaucrats still talk about doing away with “inequality”. In other words, the welfare state has not solved the problems it was created to solve, and the socialized-health care system has certainly not been the equality blessing it was supposed to be.

There is only one obvious conclusion from this, namely that it is high time for Europe to transition out of the welfare state. Needless to say, that is not on the Eurocrat agenda, but that only increases the need for freedom-minded people and organizations to ramp up their efforts at educating the Old World on the virtues and the attainability of liberty.

PS: For more on the immorality of single-payer health care, check out my essay Eugenics and the Welfare State.