Walter Reed and Government-Provided Universal Health Care

by Don Boudreaux on March 8, 2007

in Health

The New York Post today published this letter of mine:

Conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center truly are deplorable ("Sick Army Hosps," March 6).

This "flagship" institution is at the heart of Uncle Sam’s system of socialized medical care for military personnel.

So, why are many politicians and pundits clamoring for socialized medical care for all Americans?

A GMU graduate student in economics, Ms. Meredith Jones, makes this additional point in an e-mail to me:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center is set to close (in 2010, I think) and most of its work is being moved to either Ft Belvoir or Bethesda, so naturally any incentive to maintain the facilities was further muted after that decision was made. Of course, such lengthy closings are typical of inefficient social programs, and not of privately operated businesses.

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Sam Grove March 8, 2007 at 11:47 am

Personal experience with govenment provided health services.
We have adopted a child through the county's ocial services. Prior to adoption, we fostered, thus she was enrolled in the county hospital system with expenses covered by Medi-Cal.
Typical wait times were at least 45 minutes with occasional waits of several hours. This is with an appointment.
(The child's physician once suggested treating her sinusitis with Airborne. AIRBORNE!)

In contrast, my wait times at Kaiser Permanente, in which I am enrolled, usually max out at about half an hour, and usualy run about 10-15 minutes.

spencer March 8, 2007 at 12:53 pm

I grew up living on military bases and served my time as most of us were required to when I was young.

It is amazing the number of people you find making a career of the military because they have a child with a serious medical problem that this is the only way they can afford good health care for their child.

superdestroyer March 8, 2007 at 2:43 pm

There are several other ideas that economist should pick up on:

1. Walter Reed is in a lousy part of DC. Thus, to draw better employees it should be able to pay better as an incentive. However, it is limited by civil service regulation as to what it can pay. Image single payer healthcare where every hospital, physician is paid the same amount. How will inner city hospitals attract good employees? The result will probably be the same as the poor job of inner city schools attracting teachers.

2. Walter Reed's customers cannot opt out or walk out due to bad service. They are a captive customer base. All that the customer can do is complian and the Washington post reported how ineffective that was.

3. Walter Reed lends itself to empire build (didn't Friedman call it Director's Law?). It is more import to the civil servant to build fiefdoms than provide good service.

jib March 9, 2007 at 2:10 am

Will the socialized medicine work with the same level of quality and efficiency as our monopoly public schools? If so, I can hardly wait and my fellow citizens undoubtedly feel the same way.

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