Liberty and Medicine

Friday, June 29, 2007

The 15,000 dead that Michael Moore forgot about.

In 2003 France experienced a heat wave and the result was almost 15,000 deaths. USA Today reported that most the victims “died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees.”

Not long ago I spent half a year in Phoenix. And Phoenix is a very hot city. That region of the world has been hot long before we started blaming everything on CO2. Just outside Phoenix is a retirement community known as Sun City. It is a town of around 33,000 elderly people. The median age in Sun City is just over 72 years of age. And the average high temperature in Sun City is 106 degrees summer after summer.

So 33,000 elderly people thrive in temperatures higher than those that hit France where 15,000 people died. And according to USA Today many of the victims in France were elderly. What are some of the reasons that elderly people in America flock to a climate that routinely exceeds the temperatures of France’s heat wave without the dire consequences that France experienced?

Like most issues there are numerous causes involved. One is that the elderly in Sun City know that the temperatures will go above 100 degrees every day during the summer. Knowing this means they are prepared.

For instance every home and business in the Phoenix area will have air conditioning. Very few homes and business in Europe have this sort of decadent luxury. On a hot day shopping in Europe is often a horrid experience since the shops are stuffy and temperatures inside often are warmer than outside.

The reality is that Europeans have a much lower standard of living. They don’t like to admit it but it’s true. They have regulated and taxed themselves to such an extent that they live much less comfortably than do their counterparts in the United States. Average income in Europe is below average income in the United States. Then the welfare states in Europe gobble up vast amounts of the income that is earned. So the average European not just earns less but pays more in taxes. And then costs for virtually everything is much higher. I suspect something in Europe has to be cheaper than in the US but I don’t know what it is.

With lower levels of income the average home is much smaller in Europe. People don’t drive as much but walk, ride bicycles or take public transit. Cars are discouraged by the Green fanatics. Of course when heat waves hit that means old people are trying to bicycle to the store. Actually I should say stores.

In the US an older person heads to one grocery market and picks up everything they need. Such large stores go against the European mentality. So there are mostly smaller stores with minimal selections. So this means going from store to store. When it is hot out this extra exertion doesn’t help the elderly.

If the elderly in Sun City had to walk from store to store to store to buy their groceries and ride their bicycles in the 106 degree temperatures, instead of driving, they would probably be dropping dead in massive numbers as well. Luckily for them they don’t live in a town that is as “eco-friendly”.

Germany has a sales tax of about 20%. And energy is especially expensive so they can meet their Kyoto requirements. Of course they don’t meet their Kyoto requirements but they do heavily tax energy. With energy being expensive the result is that people can’t afford to air condition. It’s the same across Europe.

When the heat wave hit France people died because the cost of air conditioning is above what most people can afford. The welfare state reduces living standards and people can’t afford “luxuries” like air conditioning.

So what happened what that socialized health care? Docufraud producer Michael Moore is harping on about the benefits of the French socialized health system. He says: “The French system is the best in the world.” So why the 15,000 deaths there? How did the French system respond?

Much of it didn’t react at all. France has long mandated holiday periods for workers. The French brag about them. They pride themselves as to how little work they do, which is one reason they have chronic high unemployment. And August is the big holiday month when many French workers take the entire month off. That includes physicians, nurses, etc.

Again the news report stated: “The heat wave hit during the August vacation period, when doctors, hospital staff and many others take leave.” Of course France has a union for physicians, since every special interest group must have a union or they get screwed by the other union groups. And the National General Practitioners Union denies that vacations had anything to do with it since only 20% of all physicians were off on holiday. Only 20%! That’s one out of five physicians being gone for an entire month.

Apparently it wasn’t just the physicians and their extended holidays that were the problem. “...[T]he French Parliament released a harshly worded report blaming the deaths on a complex health system, widespread failure among agencies and health services to co-ordinate efforts, and chronically insufficient care for the elderly.” So the health system in France is complex and has “chronically insufficient care for the elderly.”

But this is one of the systems that Moore drools over when he advocates a socialist system for the United States.

It was this excellent health care that explained why 15,000 French old people died from temperatures that in Sun City would be just average. It is the excellent health care that caused the French Parliament to report that their own health system provides “chronically insufficient care for the elderly.” I suspect Mr. Moore will never mention that parliamentary report

Photo: The photo was taken in a French hospital showing elderly victims of the heat wave waiting for care. One fifth of all physicians were on holiday that day.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Universal Healthcare is what's Sicko!

By Gen LaGreca

Michael Moore says he made the film, Sicko, to "ignite a fire for free, universal healthcare." How absurd is it for someone seeking proper healthcare to take an odyssey to Communist Cuba? That Moore's camera-rolling entourage would receive the same healthcare as a Cuban citizen stretches even a child's imagination. His film should be renamed "Another Celebrity Falls for Dictator's Dog-and-Pony Show."

People like Moore believe capitalism is the disease and government takeover the cure for our healthcare ills. They think people have a "right" to free healthcare simply because they need it.

If so, why stop at medicine? Couldn't we claim the same "right" to other necessities? Take food, for instance. What if the government seized control of the food industry and fed us for free with a new entitlement, "Foodcare"?

Initially Foodcare will empty the horn of plenty into your lap. With your appetite and wallet parting company, the lobster you ate only on your birthday will become regular fare, as will your favorite Belgian chocolates and filet mignon.

Because the same idea occurs to 300 million others, costs skyrocket, and a Foodcare crisis develops. Big Brother can no longer foot the bill for your busy mouth, so he must limit your mastication. This requires new agencies, bureaucrats, and a 100,000-page rulebook.

You visit your favorite restaurant to find it changed. Gone are the tablecloths, flowers, and cheerful hostess to greet you, enhancements you had gladly paid for in the price of your meal. The Department of Restaurants eliminated them as frivolous indulgences of the people’s resources.

The menu is reduced to a few modest offerings. Missing are the savory specials of the talented chef, whose last creation took forty pounds—not of ingredients but of paperwork—to gain approval from the New Recipe Administration.

You want steak, but getting it requires that the chef call a central office to obtain pre-authorization. With the clock ticking and a long line waiting to slide into your barely warm seat, you order hamburger instead. You notice your neighbor eating steak—and sitting at the best table. You remember when he was laid off and you bought him dinner. Back then, he thanked you for your charity and quickly got another job. But now that he has a “right” to food, he's stopped working to eat courtesy of your tax dollars.

You barely recognize the frazzled chef buried in paperwork. The once happy figure doting over your every need now slaves for a new master, one that denies his fee for serving Cognac, second-guesses his decision to make cheesecake, requires a Certificate of Need to buy an oven. You know that under Foodcare he's merely biding time till retirement. When he goes, you doubt he’ll be replaced because enrollment in chef’s schools has dropped as the number of bureaucrats hounding them has risen.

As time passes, everyone forgets how it started, but the crisis worsens. Michael Moore makes a pilgrimage to North Korea in search of adequate food.

You realize that the amount you pay into Foodcare exceeds what you had paid when you bought your own food and didn't obtain it for “free.” Then you didn't pay for bureaucrats and inspectors to tell you what to eat, or for those milking the system like your neighbor. Besides emptying your wallet, Foodcare has drained all the pleasure you once derived from eating.

Politicians blame their scapegoat, the capitalists—grocers, chefs, food manufacturers—and pass laws to prevent any from owning a Mercedes while someone goes to bed hungry in America. They tell us profit is evil and free food for all is a moral ideal.

You wonder: Is there something wrong with this picture? The ideal isn't the private system, with happy chefs and grocers earning a good living in return for their talent and entrepreneurial skill, and satisfied customers enjoying a Shangri La of affordable food. The ideal isn't a spectacular abundance, with everyone's standard of eating—including the poor—raised dramatically, and this achieved without government force—without fleecing taxpayers and robbing consumers and suppliers of their freedom to make their own personal choices and to interact voluntarily. Instead, the ideal is to transform free, self-determining individuals into state-controlled puppets.

The Foodcare scenario is actually playing out in healthcare. Once the gold standard of the world, American medicine has fallen to its knees from decades of crippling regulation, with the final blow about to come from universal healthcare.

To stop this despotism we must repudiate the notion that healthcare is a right. No one has a right to demand for free the goods and services produced by others. We have the freedom to take action to further our own lives—to work, earn money, and pay for the things we need—while respecting the same rights of others. We don't have any right to enact laws to seize people's money, control their activities, and force them to provide services on terms dictated by Big Brother.

No good can result when the means used to achieve it are plunder and coercion. Universal healthcare merits the label "sicko"—or more accurately "tyranny."

Genevieve (Gen) LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about a doctor's fight for freedom in a state-run health system.

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Sick and Sicker

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Michael Moore fictionalizes socialized health care.

Michael Moore produces some of the most popular fictional films around today. Unfortunately he pretends they are based on reality. He prefers that everyone else pretend they are based on reality as well.

Recently he got a bit miffed because Canadian journalists were less than laudatory in discussing his new attack on America's quasi-private health care. Moore’s film promotes Canada, along with communist Cuba, as being his role model for health care. He simply overlooks the massive problems with Cuban health care.

The Canadian journalists knew his hype about the wonders of Canada’s system was a distortion of the facts. One journalist explained: “We Canucks were taking issue with the large liberties Sicko takes with the facts, with its lavish praise for Canada’s government-funded medicare system compared with America’s for-profit alternative.”

Moore implied that Canada provides all the health care people need or want. That is false. Every country, without exception, has to restrict access to health care. Advocates of state care brag that their care costs less than America's semi-private system. But they don’t admit that this is done by simply denying health care in one form or another.

Most countries, Canada included, reduce the demand for health care by forcing people to wait for care. Often people wait right up until they die. When they do die they are taking off the waiting list and politicians call that an improvement.

These systems forbid certain treatments or medicines outright because they cost too much, even when they are precisely what the patient needs and even if the cheaper alternatives don't work as well. Some countries, like Germany, also pay very low wages to the health care professionals. In a sense they move their expenses off the books. Instead of paying market wages to doctors and increasing taxes they reduce the wages of physicians. They indirectly impose high taxes on doctors. Thus they can pretend the health care is “cheaper” than it is in reality.

The New York Times mentioned how Canada’s health care system was a major election issue there. Why was that the case? If the system is as wonderful as Moore pretends what was the problem? According to the Times it was because of growing “waiting lines for care” and because “doctors and nurses [were] becoming sparse.” Every year or so the Canadian politicians make large promises how they will reduce the waiting lines for care. But the lines don't get shorter.

It is important to remember that Canadian health care costs are also kept artificially low because Canadians are forbidden by law to have private health care. One survey of just three American states found an average of around 1,000 Canadians per year seeking treatment, at their own expense in US facilities. Their spending is then listed as US spending and not as Canadian expenditures.

This was a study, that while claiming it was impartial, was constantly worded in a way which tried to down play the problems in Canada. They also cited a survey which showed “only 20” out of 18,000 Canadians sought care in the US. If that is the case that would be about 2,000 per year. This would be equivalent of 20,000 Ameicans per year running to Canada for their operations -- if that happened you can be assured it would widely publicized and Moore would feature it heavily in his film.

Why are 2,000 people a year seeking health care in the US when it’s “free” at home? Remember private health care in Canada is illegal. While it is not a crime to seek that care outside Canada how many people understand the distinction? Would people be reluctant to admit they sought care in the US due to fears, unfounded as they would be, about breaking the law? And this survey only shows how many actually went through the bother of traveling outside their own country to seek health care. It doesn’t show how many would have done so had they the means to do it.

What I run into from apologists for socialized service is that the reason for these problems is a shortage of funding. Now think about that for a second. They are saying that if they spent more money then state care wouldn’t have to be rationed out. And no doubt some of the problems would be solved by spending considerably more.

But so often they start out with an argument that socialized service is preferred because it is cheaper. Then they excuse the problems created by socialized medicine by saying these problems wouldn’t exist if it were more expensive. Doesn’t that undermine their original claim?

Assume they doubled the budget of health care thus making socialized care far more expensive than private care. Would that eradicate the waiting lines? It would not. Demand would continue to expand. People would still want more than they received and they would seek that extra treatment. Once again they would be rationing care. One reality of economics is that if something is free, and valuable, people will want more than exists. One way or another there is always rationing.

The problems of health care rationing and the ban on private care went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In Quebec the province allowed private insurance only for procedures not covered by the socialized system. One elderly man, George Zeliotis, needed a hip replacement. But the socialized system had him wait for over a year. He wanted private treatment which he would pay for out of his own pocket and was told it was illegal. He went to court and the Supreme Court wrote a blistering ruling. They ruled:
“The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health care system are widespread and that is some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care.”

“In sum, the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services.”
No wonder Canadian journalists were a bit testy with Mr. Moore and his praise for socialized health care. I’m sure Moore will have an explanation on why he is a better judge on the matter than the Canadian Supreme Court. And the explanation would be about as fictional as most his other work.

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