Many advocates of “universal” health care tell us that the best way to fix American health care is to expand Medicare to cover everyone. They ignore the fact that the program is already fiscally unsustainable, even if its scope remains static. George Will explains why:
When Medicare was created in 1965, America’s median age was 28.4; now it is 36.6. The elderly are more numerous and medicine is more broadly competent than was then anticipated.
Meanwhile the number of people who pay the bills is shrinking in proportion to the number of people generating them:
In the 43 years since America decided that health care for the elderly would be paid for by people still working, the ratio of workers to seniors has steadily declined.
This has caused the geniuses who run the Medicare system to revert to price controls, the standard model that all government bureaucrats (everywhere) use for “cost containment”:
Medicare is a price-fixing system for upward of 12,000 procedures and drug codes — and for hundreds of categories of equipment.
This hasn’t worked, of course (price controls never work). Medicare is careening toward bankruptcy. Yet single-payer advocates claim government should have MORE control over the health system. And the apparatchiks are willing:
Governments with powerful political incentives to behave this way will play an increasingly large role in health care. As is said, if you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it is free.
Will stole that last line from P.J. O’Rourke, who coined it in a 1993 piece for Cato. But it still captures the magical thinking that surrounds the debate over government-run health care.
Many people think the government should provide free medical care because it is a “right.” The problem is that there is no such thing as “free” health care. Medicare demonstrates just how “not free” it is.
+ May 2008
+ May 2007