'Health Care,' More or Less

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 10, 2007 | Go to article overview

'Health Care,' More or Less


Byline: David Hogberg , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Politicians and pundits lump the terms "health care" and "health insurance" together as though they are the same thing. For example, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, recently said, "One in 6 Americans does not have access to health care. And in my home state of Montana, an even greater percentage of people have limited access to health care: 1 in 5 Montanans lack health insurance."

In reality, however, health care and health insurance are quite different. Health care is the products and services used for the prevention, treatment and management of illness. Health insurance, on the other hand, is a way of paying for health care. Specifically, it is an agreement whereby the insurer pays for the health care costs of the insured.

Believing health care and health insurance are the same thing easily leads to some mistaken, if not dangerous, notions. It leads to the beliefs that (1) universal health care and universal health insurance are the same; and (2) that if a nation has universal health insurance, where the government pays for every citizen's health care, that nation will have universal health care, where citizens will have ready access to health care whenever they need it. As the experience of other nations shows, however, universal health insurance often leads to very restricted access to health care.

In nations where the government provides universal health insurance - such as Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom - there are few restraints on citizens' demand for health care. This leads to many citizens overusing health care and creates a strain on government budgets. To keep the costs from exploding, those governments must restrict access to health care by using waiting lists, canceling surgeries or delaying access to new treatments such as prescription drugs. The consequences can be quite harmful.

In 1997, three patients in Northern Ontario, Canada, died while on a waiting list to receive heart surgery. One patient had been waiting more than six months to receive bypass surgery. In Britain, patient Mavis Skeet's cancer surgery was canceled four times, during which time her cancer became inoperable.

This sort of rationing can even reach the top tiers of society. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, for example, had to wait eight months for a hip replacement. …

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