Last week the Columbia University chapter of the newly formed Benjamin Rush Society –a group of medical students and doctors who believe in the freedom to practice medicine without government interference and the freedom for patients to access the health care of their own choosing–hosted a debate on the federal government’s role in health care. An audience of almost 200 people consisting of mostly Columbia medical students and faculty attended the event. Two debaters argued that universal health care should be the responsibility of the federal government and two argued against government sponsored universal health care. Each side consisted of one physician and one non physician.
Dr. Day, a practicing Orthopedic Surgeon in Canada and past President of the Canadian Medical Association, spoke about his personal experience with Canada’s socialized health care system. Initially the system worked pretty well, but in the late 1980’s as demand for new and expensive technologies increased costs skyrocketed and the government responded by restricting supply—that is, rationing. Dr. Day saw his time in the operating room decrease from 22 hours per week to only five hours per week. He had up to 450 patients on his waiting list at any given time and his patients would wait up to three years to be treated. Although, today Dr. Day jokes that socialized medicine isn’t all bad as “Canada is now a world leader in peer reviewed research on wait lists.”
In her remarks, Sally Pipes, President of the Pacific Research Institute and author of The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen’s Guide, cited a recent poll in which 82% of Americans were satisfied with their health insurance. While the problems with health care may not be as bad as some would like us to believe, there is certainly room for improvement. She argued that markets and competition can bring about coverage and choice for all. One solution would involve creating a real national market for health insurance where patients could buy policies tailored to their individual needs and preferences without being forced by states to purchase unnecessarily expensive coverage that includes mandated benefits which they would not otherwise chose.
While the audience started the night largely in support of government involvement, those opposed to government sponsored universal health care left the debate enthused and energized to bring the message of the Benjamin Rush Society back to their respective institutions. I have already completed the paperwork to start a chapter at my medical school. Regardless of your ideological tendency the clear winner was the Benjamin Rush Society for fostering a great discussion on an important issue. Sadly all too often medical school curriculum highlights the liberal argument with regards to health care, failing to mention competing view points, let alone acknowledge that such view points even exist.