Why on Earth Do Canadians Love Waiting for Health Care?
the U.S. Senate argues about how best to take over the American health care
industry, it is worth taking a look at how government health insurance works
these poll results are frankly surprising, because universal coverage in
To be fair, roughly one third of respondents in the Nanos poll mentioned above identified “waiting times for treatment / lack of accessibility” as our system’s key weakness. Another 14 percent thought the fact that there are “not enough doctors, nurses and/or personnel” was its number one failing. Still, in spite of these defects, most Canadians support our system. Why aren’t more Canadians more upset about having to wait for health care?
Please Remain Standing—the Doctor Won’t See You Shortly!
There are surely many reasons Canadians support our flawed system, warts and all. One of the foremost is that we really do want everyone to have access to health care. We have big hearts, and we can’t stand the idea of someone going without just because he can’t afford to pay. This is all well and good, even if we are a little misguided about how to reach this goal, as I will discuss below. But on the flip side—and far less flattering to our national self-image—many Canadians also can’t stand the idea of someone jumping to the head of the queue just because he can afford to pay. Everyone must be equal, even if it means being equally miserable. Of course in reality, some people (i.e., those with pull) are much more equal than others. And notice how the existence of a queue is not even called into question by this line of thinking.
Some people, though, are probably unaware of just how long waiting times are. They may not know anyone who has been seriously ill of late, or they may know someone who got lucky and waited “only” four weeks for heart surgery instead of an average eight (or an above-average twelve).
many of those who do realize how flawed our system is nonetheless
believe that the alternative of free-market care would be worse. They look
south of the border, to the United States, and see a system that, while not as
damaged as some maintain, has some very real problems. But strangely, they
attribute these problems to the market. They ignore the fact that health care
is one of the most regulated industries in the
Toward a Voluntary Society
In addition to these economic misunderstandings, though, many Canadians have been seduced—with language about society and solidarity—into glossing over the moral issue of force. Taxation is force. Government-funded health care is health care at the point of a gun. It is more flattering to one’s ego, however, to focus on one’s generosity than to focus on how one is willing to force others to be generous, too. Some are willing to bite this bullet, saying that everyone has an obligation to help others. But by what right does one person impose unchosen obligations on another? I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to this question. Most people would rather just talk about something else.
Health insurance to cover unpredictable and expensive illnesses or injuries is generally a good thing to have. The important point here is that not all good things should be provided by government. In fact, when governments decide what is good for us, they prevent individuals from making their own individual decisions—for instance, decisions about how much and what specific kinds of insurance they want. More essentially, if every individual human being owns himself, then the initiation of force must be disallowed. Governments need to focus on their proper role, which is keeping the peace by defending the rights of individuals to live their lives as they see fit. Governments need to keep their hands off of everything else, lest they become guilty of the very harm they are entrusted to prevent: the initiation of force.
A truly voluntary society would not mandate what kinds of treatments must be covered by insurers, nor dictate that employers provide health coverage, nor subsidize employer-provided health care as against individual insurance, nor prevent interstate commerce—all measures that drive up the price of health insurance in the United States. A truly voluntary society would allow individuals to make their own decisions about health care, and about charitable giving. And a truly voluntary society would allow market actors to provide health care and health insurance. In so doing, that society would enjoy a system that was more flexible, more responsive, more affordable, more timely, and more innovative than any that currently exists anywhere on the planet. It would be both more just and more efficient, because unlike what we have been taught for millennia by just about every ethical system under the sun, the moral and the practical are actually one and the same.
Why on Earth...? is a series of cultural commentaries by Bradley Doucet.
Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre's English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
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Statement of Policy.
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