Acton Institute Powerblog

There’s No Such Thing As “Free” Health Care

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Remember: when you recieve a “free” service from the government, it’s not actually free. You’re paying for that service through your taxes. And when the government sets up a monopoly in an area like health care, it’s probably going to end up being more expensive and cheaper at the same time – more expensive because people are less likely to use a “free” service prudently, and cheaper because the overuse of the service will force officials to impose major restraints on the program in order to aviod complete financial disaster, thereby reducing the amount and quality of services available to consumers. Anthony Dick provides an overview of Canada’s situation today on National Review Online:

Canada’s universal-health-care system has long been a darling of the nanny-state Left. Its stated purpose, jealously touted by swooning cohorts of compassion from coast to coast, is to provide free and equal health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.

In practice, sadly, this high-minded endeavor has hit a few snags. The pesky fetters of reality have imposed stingy budget constraints on the enterprise, while the promise of free service for all has increased the demand for treatment. The Canadian government has thus struggled to treat more patients while spending as sparingly as possible on each of them, causing waiting lists to swell and the quality of care to sag. Not helping matters have been some medical professionals, who have fled the public system in search of better compensation. With shaking heads and sullen spirits, everyone involved agrees: It’s just not fair.

There is hope, however, thanks to the legal efforts of Jacques Chaoulli, a 53-year-old French Canadian physician. As they say, read the whole thing.

Marc Vander Maas


  • I am a conservative who would like some kind of aid in healthcare. I did not used to think that way, but circumstances change. I have had 5 heart caths in as many years. I am a diabetic. My health condition has left me jobless and unable to purchase affordable health insurance. Though I have staunchly been conservative and even somewhat fiscally libertarian I am now broke and depressed and at wits end. There has to be some kind of health care system that is mandated to be affordable for the poor and tiered to embrace the working middle class and wealthy.

  • jeff crichton

    I am sorry for your state of affairs. That is a situation I could not comprehend. I pray and hope you are able to get the care you need. That being said, do you think it is right to force other people to pay for your health care? I think that would be an injustice. A good resource for a person in your situation would be churches or charities to help you meet your needs. My mother couldn’t afford her cancer treatment and she went to the biotech company that produced the product and they gave it to her. When government gets involved in healthcare, which is what would happen with a mandated affordable healthcare plan, it is important to remember that they will be the ones deciding who gets treatment and who doesn’t. That means the patient does not have a choice in the matter. Government healthcare is a bad idea.

  • You know I used to think like that, however as my choices and sources have diminished I will take what I can get. I guess my perspective is not so much force as largesse. I think if someone with a heart understood that some of their taxes might come to alleviate my situation, then I’d like to think they would be gracious rather than angry. If there was some kind of capitalist mixture of for health care where taxes could be kept down, it would be great. Those that perceive they can afford health insurance should get a tax credit and those that can’t or opt into a govt plan may pay taxes for a national health plan. There must be some kind of compromise.

  • Joseph Scian

    Sorry to hear about your situation. You’re in a bind that would not necessarily be better in a socialized system. Don’t forget, in such a system, access is the only way that cost can be controlled. It’s not a given that you would even get your cath. Making some very poor risk patients wait long enough to die is not unheard of, and is even policy for certain procedures and age groups. What can you do? Try going to a medical center near to your home and look into registering with their clinic. There are all sorts of programs available on a sliding scale. Good luck.

  • David

    This is a very sad situation. Our prayers are with you.

    The Canadian system does not help poor people either. I spoke with a friend about our system, and with all its faults, Canadians still prefer our system when they are truly sick. The Canadian system is great for those who never get sick and never need more than an annual physical. For the very ill who need sophisticated and expensive treatment, the waiting list is so long that you will have needed to reserve the procedure or MRI long before you were diagnosed. That’s what my friends say north of the border.

    There’s a reason why life expectancy and medical innovation in the United States is about the highest in the world. That’s not to say there is not room for improvement. But that improvement will come with more choices, more competition, more market actors, not more government regulation.

  • One facing a judicial red light; the other, green.Monopoly #1: I was somewhat shocked the other day when I heard a strong critique of the much-vaunted Canadian national health care system on NPR. I wasn’t dreaming – here’s the link to prove