Rationing means dividing up a scarce resource and health care rationing is exactly what it sounds like. Not unlike people stranded with limited supplies who need to ration water or food, a limited supply of health care resources requires that decisions be made regarding who gets these limited resources. The unavoidable truth is that in many countries whose governments have assumed the role of health care provider nameless, faceless bureaucrats coldly decide who lives and who dies. For example, if the government can only manage to perform 20 kidney transplants per month but has 30 people who need them they typically make the decision based upon some actuarial statistics of viability, something that can be transformed into an easy-to-read chart that even a publicly-educated government employee can utilize without needing to think. What this means for our example is that the young person gets the transplant and the old person does not, with obvious differences in their respective prognoses.
Before you decide to take the “sure, that’s stark, but that’s real life” approach that one tends to hear from defenders of socialized medicine you should consider the why of health care rationing. Why exactly do we have this immediate side-discussion about rationing health care whenever we consider socialized medicine? Step back from your ideological position on this subject for a moment and take an honest and skeptical look at it.
When thinking of general economics it is easy to understand the basic idea of resource scarcity. In a real sense it is why things like gold and diamonds are valuable. Someone has to locate a very rare resource and invest the money in extracting that resource. This natural scarcity is what makes those resources valuable. Going a step beyond extracting raw resources, sometimes the resource may be something complex that requires manufacturing, and in case after case American private enterprise has stepped up to provide what people want to buy.
But it is a very different situation if the scarcity of a certain good or service is not the result of a basic and almost unavoidable limitation in the supply of those resources but is instead simply the result of one of the ultimate truths of humankind, that governments never do anything as well as the private sector. The cold hard fact is that we are only having the rationing discussion during this debate about health care “reform” because no matter which political party you or I might hate more we all know that our government will be pathetic at dispensing health care. Anyone who has observed the DMV or the Postal Service or any public health or government assistance office knows that to be true and to deny that reality is akin to denying gravity. Even the most ardent liberal will admit to you that government is ridiculously inefficient – though it may take a couple of beers chardonnays to draw out that admission. Taking an honest look at the cause of the scarcity, which is not a lack of resources but simply the expected typical and timeless failure of government, completely changes the discussion of rationing and should give pause to any clear thinking individual about socialized medicine in general.
If we all know that government will do it monumentally poorly, as anyone with the power of observation certainly does, why are we even considering letting them try?