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The Only Cure for America’s Health-Care Illness

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The core problem in the health-care debate is that most everyone just assumes the existence of Medicare and Medicaid and medical licensure. Then, they come up with some sort of reform plan that works around these socialist and interventionist programs.

That’s ridiculous, because Medicare and Medicaid and occupational licensure are the heart of the problem. It’s just that people are so accustomed to and dependent on these government programs that they simply cannot imagine life without them.

But life without them is the only cure for America’s health-care woes.

Last Saturday the Washington Post carried an interesting article about a family doctor in Post, Texas. By closely reading the article, one can infer how Medicare and Medicaid destroyed the finest health-care system in the world.

The doctor, Ben Edwards, is the only family practitioner within a 45-mile radius of the town. He has 2,000 patients, which he treats by allocating an average of 15 minutes to each of them. His professional time is filled to the maximum. His wife and child are important to him, and he does his best to spend evenings with them.

What would happen if President Obama were to get his wish of “free” health-care for everyone, including the 3,708 residents in Post? Edwards’ office would suddenly be inundated with people. According to the article, “He has no idea how he would fit in anyone else” and the last thing he wants to do is work at night. The article sums it up: “The truth is this: Edwards will not have time to treat them all.”

You see, the problem is the same as it is with Medicare and Medicaid. Without health-care coverage, people are much more cautious about going in to see a doctor. Once the government gives it to them for free, they go into the doctor seeking treatment on every single ache and pain, no matter how minor.

Rosemary Tuck is an example. A waitress in Post with no health benefits, when she gets sick, she treats herself with over-the-counter medications. Her statement is revealing: “If I had coverage, I would go see Dr. Edwards, even if I got a cold or sick.”

Her sentiment is echoed by Rosa Latimer, a newspaper editor with no health insurance: “If I’m really sick, I’ll go to the doctor.” But if she had coverage, she says, “I might go more often and get tests done without waiting.”

And that’s precisely what Lyndon Johnson’s socialistic Medicare and Medicaid programs did. By providing “free” medical service for millions, these two socialistic programs placed an enormous additional burden on the demand side of the health-care industry, bringing about ever-soaring health-care costs, which then produced a panoply of distortions and perversions in health care.

What about the supply side? The Post’s article was revealing in that respect also. If Obama’s health-care plan goes into effect, an estimated 40 million uninsured Americans might well suddenly seek general doctors for physicals and other everyday medical needs. Yet, “There is no sign that … the country is training enough family practitioners.”

That’s because government licensing restrictions operate to artificially restrict the supply of doctors and other health-care providers. Like with so many other professions (law being a good example), licensing is nothing more than a protection racket whose purpose is to restrict supply in order to keep salaries high of the privileged who have the money to meet the prerequisites for getting the licenses.

Yes, I know, the statists will immediately come back with, “Oh my gosh, there would be quacks doing brain surgery on me!” Well, there’s no one better to refute such nonsense than Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman’s. See his famous essay “Medical Licensure.”

Now, it’s true that medical regulations, insurance regulations, and employer-based health-care insurance have greatly distorted the health-care market too. Everyone would be better off with their total repeal.

But the only long-term cure for America’s health-care woes lies with radical surgery — the complete repeal of Medicare, Medicaid, and medical-licensure laws. Only by completely separating health care and state, as our ancestors separated church and state, can we restore a sense of normality to the health-care part of our lives.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.