Reforming Health Care; One-Size-Fits-All Doesn't Fit

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Ignagni, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It's not surprising that the nation's ongoing health care reform debate has prompted some commentators to argue for a government-run, single-payer health care system. But those who do so fail to address the most pressing issue that stands in the way of real reform: a lack of consensus among Americans on what we want from our health care system.

Critics of the present system often point to government-run systems in Canada, Britain and elsewhere as models of enlightened organization, delivery and outcomes. But there's a big gap between theoretical models and facts on the ground.

A survey by the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows, for instance, that Americans have a higher level of satisfaction with their health care services than Canadians do with theirs. One reason can be found in outcomes research showing that Canadians have a greater risk of dying within five years after suffering a common type of heart attack - a difference in quality of care that translates into thousands of lives lost needlessly each year.

Canadian lawmakers, meanwhile, have been struggling with how to finance their system's unexpectedly high costs - some of which can't be measured in dollars and cents alone. The Fraser Institute found, for example, that patients in Canada typically must wait nearly four months from initial diagnosis to treatment by a specialist.

And it's not just patients who are poorly served by Canada's flawed system of care. As the Canadian Institute for Health Information has noted, many Canadian physicians are leaving for the United States, fed up with rationing and inflexible government controls.

How does our present system measure up to a government-run system? A study by the National Center for Policy Analysis compared America's private health care model to Britain's government-run National Health Service. The study found that U.S. health insurance plans "achieved better performance at roughly the same cost as the NHS because of integration throughout the system, efficient management of hospital use, the benefits of competition and greater investment in information technology."

Some commentators cite high cost as an obstacle to reform given the projected budget shortfall facing Congress over the next ten years. Yet the cost of market-based reform pales in comparison to the costs associated with a government takeover of our health care system.

Many studies have shown that a government takeover would require significant tax increases to fund a centralized bureaucracy - one which would inevitably make it harder for patients to make their own choices. …