Where ‘Socialized Medicine’ Has a U.S. Foothold

Uwe E. Reinhardt | New York Times | August 3, 2012

Remarkably, Americans of all political stripes have long reserved for our veterans the purest form of socialized medicine, the vast health system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (generally known as the V.A. health system). If socialized medicine is as bad as so many on this side of the Atlantic claim, why have both political parties ruling this land deemed socialized medicine the best health system for military veterans? Or do they just not care about them?”

I must note that there is a widespread confusion in this country over the terms “social health insurance” and “socialized medicine.” Among policy wonks, “social health insurance” is understood to be health insurance to which the individual makes contributions on the basis of ability to pay, rather than on the basis of health status. Such a system can be coupled, and often is, with purely private health care delivery systems, including for-profit enterprises. Canada, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland come to mind.

Socialized medicine refers to systems that couple social health insurance with government-owned and operated health care facilities, such as Britain’s N.H.S. or the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, a still-appreciated legacy of British colonialism. Socialized medicine also typified the health systems operated by the former socialist countries in the Soviet orbit. Evidently, the V.A. health system perfectly fits the definition of socialized medicine....So far I have not received a satisfactory answer from detractors of “socialized medicine” to my question of why we have the V.A. health system when socialized medicine putatively is so evil. Perhaps some commentators on this blog will enlighten me.

Before responding, however, readers might consider these readings, which can be found in an Internet search on “V.A. Health Care and Quality”: a book by Phillip Longman, “The Best Care Anywhere: Why V.A. Health Care Is Better Than Yours”; an article on V.A. health care in the American Medical Association’s amednews.com, and, finally, from the Rand Corporation’s nationally recognized team of experts on the quality of health care in the United States this eye-opening report.