'You can be sure our doctors are very good', said my Slovak colleague to me one day. I had been suffering from a pretty bad cold for several days, at which point my colleague insisted I see a doctor about it. I calmly explained I already had plenty of cold medicine I'd brought from America, but she would have nothing of it. I was to see a doctor and that was that.
Off I went to see the doctor. Her office looked like a set from a 1940s period film. There was nothing to suggest a modern 1990s facility. The doctor spoke little English, but my Slovak was by then strong enough to describe my condition to her. After a bit of poking and prodding, and against my protestations that I had cold medicine, she gave me the prescription: herbal tea and a potato. A potato? I asked. Yes, she intoned. Cut it in half and rub the cut ends on your neck. This, along with the tea, will cure you for sure. She thrust a packet of tea in my hands - and said potato.
After I left the doctor's office I chuckled sadly to myself. If this is what passes for the medical profession in Slovakia, no wonder 'universal access' is so, well, universal. Who needs scientific diagnoses when a little folksy remedy can cure whatever ails you? Needless to say, I discarded the potato and the tea and took my Sudafed. I felt better soon after that. When my colleague asked me about my experience with her crack doctor (or is it cracked out?), I said it was very instructive.
Flash forward to America in 2009. A new President has been elected on the nebulous notions of hope and change, and the world grins beatifically with approval. The nostrum of 'universal health care' has tightened its grip on a goodly number of the American populace, whilst those of us who have some experience with these vaunted systems outside the US scratch our heads in wonder over the affair. Just what do people think they're going to get for free? MRIs at the drop of a hat? Advanced laser surgery? And does it occur to anyone that it might be a tad dangerous to give scalpels to people with the mentality of a nine to five postal worker, as exists in these fantastic medical systems in countries the world over?
Now, I need not spend much time here describing how most Canadians or most Australians or most French love their public health care systems. Like post offices and schools, these systems have been in place so long that virtually no-one questions whether government run medicine is moral and practical. Therein lies the great danger for Americans. Even with a medical system largely controlled by government, the country still has some free market principles that allow for continued innovation in the development of new drugs and surgical techniques. Under a fully government run system, Americans in the decades to come will come to get used to the stultifying bureaucracy and glacial pace of the beloved nationalised systems abroad. They will see as normal the kind of service they now associate with air travel, the post office and public schools. They will shrug their shoulders in resignation and say: 'At least everyone gets care now'.
But what if medical care were like the about to be released Apple iPad or the amazing devices that make our daily lives more productive and enjoyable? What if, instead of filling out reams of paperwork designed to protect themselves from a faceless agency or ministry, doctors attended to their patients as their primary purpose? And what if they decided on what fees to charge based on whatever criteria they deemed reasonable to make a good living? And what if individuals believed that their health, like their careers, was completely up to them?
I do not expect anyone to agree with me. Few do on this matter. My expectation, as always with my articles, is to encourage people to consider the consequences of the things they refuse to think about. If everyone silently abdicates the need to think about the big issues, have they still the right to grumble about the poor service they get or the botched operations that leave their loved ones worse off than before they went under the knife? In other words, if YOU value YOUR life, don't you owe it to yourself to find out that good doctors are far too important to relegate to the clutches of government boards and agencies?