Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Socialized Medicine Done Right

At last, an insightful piece on universal coverage that lays out just the sort of proposal that I've long championed as most likely to work.

The public has good reason to be worried about health coverage. After five years of relative stability, insurance premiums, prescription-drug prices and other costs have soared. This year, premiums went up nearly 14 percent, with those paid by employees increasing nearly 50 percent since 2000. The number of Americans without health insurance increased more than 5 percent just in the last year. And strikes by workers in Los Angeles and elsewhere showed that health coverage is the flashpoint of labor discord.

As a solution, many policymakers are advocating small reforms like a Medicare prescription drug benefit and expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Unfortunately, more services for some groups may increase costs and force reductions in coverage for others.

What we need is a fair proposal that is simple, efficient and appealing to disparate constituencies. For more than a decade, as members of the medical and economics communities, we have advocated such an alternative: universal health care vouchers.

This colum brings to mind a couple of discussions I've had on Matthew Yglesias' blog, in which I have repeatedly made clear my belief that the "single payer" system advocated by so many on the American left was the worst possible choice one could make, and that the admiration on the left for the British NHS was severely misplaced. Better, I said, that a universal healthcare voucher scheme be initiated. On neither occasion did my criticisms receive the friendliest of receptions, and in consequence I would love to see what my erstwhile opponents will make of this opinion piece (written in part by a Stanford professor emeritus of economics, no less, for those who think that all wisdom must issue from the mouths of the credentialed.)