President Obama doesn’t tackle little problems. He only tackles big problems, and he aims to solve them. As he said in his September 9 speech to Congress on health-care reform: “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”
His counterparts in Europe and Canada must be having a good chuckle over that one. No industrial nation has “solved” its health-care woes: Canada is struggling to find ways to inject more choice and competition into its sclerotic single-payer system. In the United Kingdom, despite sharp increases in government spending over the last decade, patients still suffer from long wait times and poor outcomes for diseases like cancer — the worst in Europe.
As my colleague David Gratzer noted recently in Forbes, OECD countries haven’t faired much better at controlling health-care costs than we have. As a result, French and German politicians are struggling with their own sticky debates over health-care spending. (And this despite the fact that Europe, Canada, and Japan all impose price controls on drugs and medical devices and the U.S. doesn’t — allowing them to free ride on the U.S.’s relatively free market for medical innovation.)
The president and his advisors don’t — and probably can’t — admit that the “problem” with health care is third-party payment systems (through employers or government) that lock consumers out of any responsibility for their own care. So no matter what bill the Democrats ram through Congress and the president signs, the one thing that we can be absolutely sure of is that the health-care debate won’t end any time soon. What we have to do now is start to convince people that there is a better way.
And then, hopefully, the next president who talks about health-care reform will actually get it right.