nationalize it

Ron Bailey at Reason has some thoughts on nationalized healthcare:

Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff sees health care expenditures rising to perhaps 30 percent of a country’s GDP over the next 50 years. If the US adopts a nationalized health care system, taxes will have to double for pay for it. Rogoff also observes, “[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt.”

Which suggests the following thought experiment—what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago.

An interesting way to look at it, but I’d also propose another thought experiment: Conceding for the moment that there’s nothing we can do to stem the tide of our high healthcare costs (which I am not convinced of), what if we did nationalize healthcare and did effectively freeze innovation for the time being. Is that as disastrous as it’s made out to be? If we had to choose between mediocre healthcare technology where everyone is guaranteed a base level of service versus newer, fancier and even more incredible healthcare technology for those that can afford it while we still have poor people getting sick and dying, I think I’d choose the former.

Plus I think there’s a convincing argument to be made that the preventative value of a guaranteed base-line of care could cause a drastic decrease in the long-term costs of healthcare in general. Right now we have a healthcare system that by and large treats people that can afford it earliest, and people that can’t afford it when it has become unavoidable – i.e. when they require catastrophic healthcare, which is pretty expensive.