Last week The Washington Post ran a good opinion piece by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at NIH (and brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel) on the insidiousness of labeling any and all positions on health care apart from free market fundamentalism as being “socialized” medicine, doomed to failure.
Emanuel notes that “ ‘socialized medicine’ is when the doctors are state employees; when the hospitals, drugstores, home health agencies and other facilities are owned and controlled by the government…” As Emanuel rightly points out, none of the universal coverage proposals being debated in the U.S. today “can be characterized as socialized medicine. None calls for government ownership or control over U.S. hospitals, drugstores or home health agencies, or for making doctors employees of the federal or state governments.”
This is right on the money—maybe even more so than Emanuel intends. Opponents of “socialized” medicine are wrong three times over: not only do most reformers not want socialized medicine, but even European health care systems (often used as examples of socialized medicine) do not meet the criteria outlined above. Further, publicly-run health care carries with it some significant benefits that are evident right here in the U.S.
To dispel the myth of monolithic government-run European health care, look no further than Germany, where most of the population (88%) receives health care through “sickness funds"–non-profit, third-party pools of money devoted to health services. Sickness funds are built on the principle of “subsidized self-governance”: they receive public funding, but the funds must be financially self-sufficient (i.e. be able to govern themselves) and also allow a high degree of freedom on the part of patients and doctors (the former can choose their doctors and hospitals, and the latter have much flexibility in treatments).