A lot of people seem to think America’s health care system is failing. For one thing, estimates of the uninsured range as high as 47 million, and the problem can be solved only by spending more money. However, as P.J. O’Rourke said, “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

Harris Sherline

Harris Sherline

Do you think Barack Obama has the answers for providing health care in America? Does John McCain? How about George W. Bush? Hillary Clinton? Or, for that matter, any politician? 

Have the Canadians or the Brits solved the problem in their countries? Some people believe that they have. However, England has a backlog of 750,000 patients waiting to be admitted to a hospital, and many Canadians come to the United States for critical care, such as bypass surgery or cancer treatment, because waiting times in their own country are interminable, sometimes a year or longer before they can get the care they need. In some communities, it can take months just to get an appointment with a doctor, and one-third of Canadian doctors send patients to the United States for treatment every year.

All state-run health care systems have one thing in common: rationing. Not necessarily involving the use of ration cards, but rationing nonetheless. Rationing of resources, that is. The cause is a devilishly simple principle that is present in all nationalized health care programs: It’s free or so low cost that it’s almost free, and basic economics clearly demonstrates that whenever something is free, demand increases significantly.

The flip side of expanded demand is a shortage of supply, and without enough doctors, nurses, technicians, facilities or equipment to go around, rationing automatically becomes necessary. That’s what has been wrong with nationalized health care in England, Canada, Germany, Japan, the former USSR, everywhere it has been tried.

Socialized medicine in one form or another is the health care model that is gradually being adopted in America, and it is slowly but surely lowering the quality of the health care we are receiving.

But, you may say: “We don’t have socialized medicine in America!” 

Perhaps not yet, but we’ve been moving in that direction for a while, and it’s a slippery slope. For example, consider Medicare and Medicaid. But these programs are not socialized medicine, you may insist.

Unfortunately, they are. For one thing, they are single-payer systems. For another, they employ price controls, which have never worked — ever, in any society at any time in history, dating back to 301 A.D., when they were imposed by the Roman emperor Diocletian.

With about 30 percent of the U.S. population now covered by the Medicare and Medicaid programs, we are clearly headed in that direction, in spite of compelling evidence that it doesn’t work. 

We only have to look at what has happened since 1984, the year the government changed its method of paying hospitals from cost plus to unilaterally setting the fees they pay for hospital services to Medicare and Medicaid patients. When the government began doing this, many hospitals started losing money.

The difference between a hospital’s normal fees for services and the amounts Medicare and Medicaid pay can’t be collected from the patients and must be written off. It’s take it or leave it, and that’s price control. 

Furthermore, the government generally has limited annual cost-of-living fee increases to 1 percent to 1.5 percent, in spite of the fact that hospital costs have been rising for many years at an annual rate of anywhere from 6 percent to 14 percent. 

As a result of Medicare and Medicaid limits on fees, many hospitals actually collect only about 50 percent of their total billings. The rest must be written off. In 2007, the California HealthCare Foundation reported that one-third of all hospitals in California operate at a loss.

With a national health care plan, many hospitals eventually would close or curtail their services. That’s been the pattern in every country that has nationalized its health care. 

Like the proverbial frog being cooked in a pot of cold water, Americans are becoming increasingly aware that the quality of their health care is declining, even as costs continue to go up. It just hasn’t sunk in yet. When it does, they will undoubtedly demand more government control, regulation and oversight, and our politicians will be only too willing to oblige. 

Nationalized health care in America is gradually overtaking the free market, and we are all being slowly cooked in the pot of government intervention. So, don’t be surprised if the quality of health care in this country declines further as we move closer to socialized medicine.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.