Withhold Medicine from the Elderly and Obese?

Advocates of politically-controlled medicine in the U.S. and in Colorado typically make two major errors. First, they conflate today’s mixed economy in medicine, in which decades of political controls have wreaked havoc with the provision of medical services, with the “free market.” Second, they claim that a “free market” would heartlessly fail to provide medical services to people who need them.

For a little dose of reality, check out a January 28 article by the UK’s Telegraph. It is socialized medicine that pits doctors against patients and that rations care:

Don’t treat the old and unhealthy, say doctors
By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:09am GMT 28/01/2008

Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who are too old or who lead unhealthy lives.

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone. …

About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt.

Managers defend the policies because of the higher risk of complications on the operating table for unfit patients. But critics believe that patients are being denied care simply to save money.

This reminds me of Colorado’s former Governor Dick Lamm, who once said that the elderly have a “duty to die.”

The central problem is that, when everyone is paying everyone else’s medical bills, everyone wants to spend as much as possible on his or her own medical care but as little as possible on everyone else’s medical care. Conflict is built into the system.

By contrast, a truly free market is characterized by voluntary cooperation among doctors, patients, insurers, and charitable organizations.

When politicians and bureaucrats control medicine, they necessarily tend to try to control the personal lives of the citizenry. The Telegraph continues:

The Government announced plans last week to offer fat people cash incentives to diet and exercise as part of a desperate strategy to steer Britain off a course that will otherwise see half the population dangerously overweight by 2050.

Obesity costs the British taxpayer £7 billion a year. Overweight people are more likely to contract diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and to require replacement joints or stomach-stapling operations.

Under politicized medicine, when medical care is “free,” people have less incentive to take care of their health. And taxpayers, politicians, bureaucrats, and health-care providers have more incentive to try to micromanage the lives of everybody else. As Lin Zinser and Dr. Paul Hsieh point out, “When the government pays our health care bills, in order to save money, it inevitably demands greater control in how we lead our daily lives.”