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Pyle: Cutting the middleman in

Published March 22, 2013 5:13 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

[Above: This video is only a little bit about this column. But it's really, really good. (Plus, I stayed in that hotel once.)]


American politicians who claim that President Obama is moving the nation towards a form of "socialism" have established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the have no idea what that word means.

Even Obamacare, more formally known as the Affordable Care Act, is something no true socialist would favor, or even recognize. Truly socialized medicine, which so many elected officials in Utah and elsewhere claim to be doing everything they can to avoid, would look nothing like Obamacare, though it might look something like Great Britain's National Health Service.

If medical care were socialized, then the government — maybe the federal government, maybe the states — would actually own hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers. Doctors, nurses and other health care providers would be government employees. And it would all be paid for, at least in part, from your taxes.

It would be like other basic functions of a modern life, everything from the armed forces to the local fire department, in a nation that can even pretend to call itself civilized. It would be perceived as so basic a need that we don't leave it to the whims of the marketplace, nor could we stand to deny it to anyone who didn't have the money to pay the true cost of providing the service.

Not only is Obamacare nothing like that, no serious proposal has been put forward anywhere to turn our health care system into a government-owned, government-provided, taxpayer-funded service. So those politicians who say they are standing firm against the trend toward socialized medicine in the United States are either very confused or dishonest.

No, in America, the idea that is the farthest to the left is what's called the single payer system. In such a system (e.g. Canada, or Medicare), the government doesn't own the hospitals or employ the doctors. It just pays for them.

The good part of that is that it protects people from the true cost of providing medical services. The bad part is that it hides people from the true cost of medical services, which means they may tend to overconsume them because there are no price cues to encourage people to use the system less.

The best part is when, or if, the single payer is aggressive in using its clout to jaw the providers down on the price they charge for everything from an aspirin to a hip replacement. That, and the fact that if all the bills were paid by one agency, providers would save billions in paperwork and overhead by being freed from multiple and duplicative claim forms, and dealing only with an entity whose purpose is to provide beneficiaries with proper care, rather than with outfits that devote large amounts of effort to finding reasons to deny care.

The resistance in Utah and elsewhere to the various aspects of Obamacare, based on the claim that it is an overreach by government and a slippery slope toward socialized medicine, makes no argument that such resistance would help patients. It is based on one of two things: pure free-market dogma, utterly unsupported by fact, or the age-old urge to play the big-pocketed government for a patsy.

That is what would happen if Utah, rather than simply expanding Medicaid to all families with incomes that put them below 138 percent of the poverty level, convinced Obama to let them take the money and buy private insurance for those folks. That is the model proposed by the state of Arkansas, and the only purpose it could possibly serve is to make sure that some well-placed friends of those in power get a cut of the federal money, rather than see all of it go to medical care for the poor.

That approach, like turning the current site of the Utah State Prison into a real estate broker's fevered dream, or snatching 30 million acres in federal land so we can dig it up more quickly, is based not on serving the taxpayers. It is based on siphoning off a great deal of your tax money to benefit the well-connected.

There's a name for that. It's not socialism. And it's not a free market. It's corruption.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is looking for a pill that can cure his cynicism. Contact him at gpyle@sltrib.com, or via Facebook at facebook.com/stateofthedebate.




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