by Robert Arvay
I once worked in a military medical facility overseas. It was in a nation where the vast majority of people were abysmally poor. The halt and the lame were common sights on the streets. Life expectancy was somewhere under fifty years for poor people.
Much of the time, these people could legally be treated as a matter of United States policy to win over the hearts and minds of the people. They would show up in long lines, and we would treat as many as we could.
Most of the time, however, the facility was closed to everyone except US personnel. You see, winning over hearts and minds could be done by treating less than one percent of one percent of the people who needed care. It was simply not feasible, not possible, to give everyone the care they needed. There are not enough doctors, not enough money, and not enough medicine.
It was during these times, when the facility was closed, that somehow, a very few poor people managed to sneak onto the military compound and knock on the door of the clinic. They might show up with a small child. The patient might have a medical emergency, or might have a longstanding problem, such as a birth defect. It was illegal to treat them during those hours, but human nature, being what it is, we treated them anyway, at significant risk of prosecution to ourselves. In one instance, a doctor was quite angry that he had been awakened from a comfortable sleep (off duty) to attend to a patient whom he discovered was ineligible. His personality being what it was, we thought he might walk away, or perhaps even turn us in. He didn’t. Overcome with compassion for a child with a life-threatening infection, he provided medication. Then he warned us never to do it again.
Bear in mind that this was taxpayer-funded medical care. Bear in mind that people who could not “sneak in” did not get care. We did not go into the streets seeking them out. Even when the clinic was legally open to them, there were days when we ran out of time, late into the sunset, and had to close down the facility. People had been waiting in the icy rain for hours, only to be turned away at the last minute, weeping and begging, while dozens of people anxiously waited behind them. The door closed.
It is simple human nature that, when someone is immediately in front of you, begging for mercy, that you do whatever you can to help them. You do this even if it is illegal – but you simply cannot do it for everyone. The laws of physics and mathematics are a brick wall of reality that defeats compassion.
There was a time in the United States when a poor person would show up at the door of a hospital, doctor’s office, or other medical care facility, desperate for treatment, and be turned away, to suffer or even die. No money, no treatment, period. The door closed.
The people who closed that door were not cold-blooded, greedy doctors. Many of the gate-keepers, the door closers, were simply there to insulate the doctors from having to endure the pain of personally telling a widow with her infant to go away – in effect, to die. To personally refuse help to a genuinely needy person is a dehumanizing experience. I found myself, in that situation, unable to do so while there was any means of helping.
So, why do I say that I am a cold-blooded, hypocritical conservative? It is because of this: I oppose socialized medicine. I advocate the free market. I do this fully recognizing that, under a free market system, many genuinely needy people will be turned away, many will suffer, many will die. Not only does this make me cold-blooded, it makes me a hypocrite, because I want someone else to do the turning away. (I eat beef, but I do not wish to see the calf being slaughtered.)
Of course, I wish that everyone could have all the medical care they need. Of course, it rankles me that while one person is suffering terribly for lack of life-saving surgery, another is receiving cosmetic surgery to satisfy his or her vanity, and paying handsomely for it.
It’s not fair.
Why, then, do I not advocate socialized medicine? It is because socialized medicine does not make matters better, but worse. It does not solve the problems – it only masks them.
In Britain, everyone is on the National Health Service (NHS). That means that every British person gets all the medical care he or she needs, right? Laughably and tragically, untrue. Britain is not immune to the laws of physics, nor exempt from the laws of mathematics. Despite limitless need, there is not limitless supply. In Britain, the lines of would-be patients are long, and the waiting period is often months – during which time people either die or else graduate from a treatable condition to a fatal condition. The death report does not reveal how many people would have lived had they been able to travel to the United States for medical care, which is what the wealthy and privileged do, and which many Canadians do every day, as a safety valve from their socialized medical system.
To paraphrase Barack Obama, the British people have a “crummy’ health care system. Worse yet, because they have no alternative, nothing for comparison, they do not see its “substandard” aspects. They do not notice the rationing. They never see the opportunity costs involved in removing the profit incentive. They never see the potential innovations that never occur. They never question the hidden inefficiencies and hidden costs. They actually think that their health care is free.
Here in the United States, we are at a fork in the road. We can have our freedom, or we can trade it for free things. Let’s do the compassionate thing. Let’s allow the free market to work. It won’t be easy. It will mean turning people away at the door, but not pretending that we are treating them when in fact, we are sending them to the end of a long line to await the brutal decision of a truly cold-blooded government bureaucrat. (Reference: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, liberal icon of compassion, refused to authorize life-saving medical treatment for a young girl who needed a transplant. She got the transplant, but only after a judge forced Sebelius to get out of the way.)
Socialism is a cruel deception. It cannot overturn the laws of nature. It cannot provide unlimited supplies to meet our limitless needs. Quite to the contrary, socialism is every bit as cold-blooded and hypocritical as its advocates accuse conservatives of being. The difference is that conservatism seeks solutions, not masks to cover the problems.
An added bonus is this: we can institute free markets without spending a billion dollars on a “crummy, substandard” website that doesn’t work.
Robert Arvay is a Contributing Writer
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