Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
Among the many distortions and intellectual dishonesties that plague right-wing pontificating about healthcare ethics and policy is the constant pointing to (often hypothetical) drawbacks of policies they oppose as proof that those policies are unworkable or immoral, while exactly the same problem exists with the policies they do approve. In particular, opposition to universal healthcare often takes the form of nit-picking any possible barrier or difficulty that such programs would encounter without the slightest acknowledgment that the market-rationed for-profit system the US now has simply ignores its own gross deficiencies as if they didn’t exist – as if simply leaving people out of the system is not a problem, while having trouble treating everybody within a larger system is a fatal flaw.
The most egregious example of such falsehoods is the claim that universal healthcare will be “rationed” (meaning that no such system will pay for every imaginable treatment); for market fetishists, denying care outright to tens of millions of people is not rationing, and forcing hundreds of millions into overpriced insurance plans that ban entire categories of patients from enrollment, prohibit vast swaths of basic treatments, and then deny reimbursement for treatments they have actually contracted to cover is also not rationing, but creating a system that serves vastly larger numbers of patients more completely is rationing. But that’s just one well-worn delusion. They are nothing if not creative in coming up with new ones.
Today’s meme is that old bugaboo, the “doctor shortage“. (Some of us can remember times – more than one – when it was a “doctor glut“, and the right-wing economists who feared that, as well.) The right wing is just beside itself with worry that, under a scheme of universal healthcare, there simply won’t be enough doctors to go around. (Leading, of course, to . . . healthcare rationing!) Instapundit is convinced the problem is we don’t pay them enough. David Bernstein at Volokh thinks we should educate them less, so they’d have less school debt. Dr. Helen is convinced that the administrative hassles of healthcare are “going to get a whole lot worse with more government intervention” – apparently she believes that reducing the 30% overhead of for-profit insurance company administration would be offset by providing more and better healthcare to hundreds of millions of people, and figures that’s a bad thing. (It goes without saying that none of them thinks we should just subsidize doctors’ education and let them pay it back with service, so as to attract more people who actually care about practicing medicine and aren’t in it for the highest dollar. As Instapundit would say, “Naah, that wouldn’t make sense!”)
But, aside from the complete inability of of market worshippers to care or consider whether not rationing healthcare by profit margin would in any way improve the ability of people to actually get healthcare, there is in this case the gross hypocrisy of simply ignoring the entire question how this issue plays out in the market-rationed system these people all favor. (Remember that the problems the market doesn’t care about are not problems for the market; they’re only problems for systems that actually care about people’s needs, and thus are uniquely guilty for failing to solve problems that marketeers just don’t bother with in the first place.)
How is it the near-term supply of doctors is insufficient for a national healthcare system, but not insufficient for the market-rationed system we currently have? We’re talking about essentially the same number of doctors and the same number of potential patients – so if there aren’t enough doctors to go around under a system in which everybody has equal access to care, why is that not a problem now? Why haven’t the right-wingers who are so very, very (sincerely, no doubt) concerned that not everybody will be able to see a doctor immediately, when they actually have a right to do so, not concerned that not everybody can see a doctor at all, now, when they simply can’t afford to?
The answer, of course, is that they don’t care in the slightest whether or not people get the healthcare they need (especially those who have proven themselves unworthy by being unable to afford it). And they don’t really care whether there are enough doctors to staff a universal-access system, except to the extent that a potential shortage can be used as an argument against initiating such a system. If the actual impact of a supply/demand imbalance – the fact that some people can’t get access to a healthcare provider – mattered to them as a problem in itself, it would matter much more now, where some people have no access at all and most people are trapped in the hugely oppressive and constraining for-profit health insurance morass, than it would within some hypothetical future system which provides access to everybody, possibly with longer waiting times. But, again, the complete refusal of the market-rationed system to even attempt to do anything about the most helpless and desperate people trapped under it is of no consequence whatsoever, because if you’re ideologically wedded to profit-maximization for healthcare providers, you’re ideologically indifferent to actual healthcare for patients as a goal in its own right. But the idea of the great unwashed flooding your for-profit system and taking up the time and attention of the doctors you paid for, dammit, is both a real inconvenience (to you) and a moral offense (to the principle of purchased entitlement in a market environment).
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