According to a recent Pew poll, support for universal health care, provided and paid for by the federal government, is higher among American millennials than among older generations. Young Americans seem to believe that socialized medicine is a "cure-all" for health-care ills in the United States, as it ostensibly is elsewhere, such as Canada and Britain.
Unfortunately, there are facts that would appear to put this fantasy to rest by the facts -- for instance, the tragic and untimely death of a 20-year-old British woman in her dorm room last March. Victoria Hills, a first-year student, died of an ear infection, after "postpon[ing] visiting her campus general practitioner because her student loan had not come through and she couldn't afford the prescription."
There seems to be a myth that all medical care, procedures and drugs are free under a socialized system. Although Britons do have affordable access to primary-care doctors, and everyone in the UK is covered through high taxes, they are subjected to extensive waiting periods for specialists, surgeries and hospitalization. The fact is that in the West, as the ability of physicians to provide services becomes stretched, many patients die waiting for treatment.
In communist – and former communist -- countries, the situation is even worse, as the 2005 award-winning dark comedy, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, tries to illustrate. The film portrays the medical tribulations of an elderly man in Romania, transported by ambulance from hospital to hospital for an entire night, while doctors at each location refuse to treat him and send him away. By the time he is finally admitted to a fourth hospital, he needs surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. In a particularly poignant scene, one doctor comments: "They have saved him so he can die from an incurable liver neoplasm."
The sad reality about the field of medicine in a former communist country such as Romania is that old habits die hard. Having grown up in communist Romania, I remember, after feeling ill, being taken to the polyclinic, to a room full of other sick people, all entitled to "free" care. Some were there to receive permission slips to miss work due to their ailments. Others were there for injections. Still others were so ill that they could barely stand.
The system was "first come, first served." Everyone received a number and waited, as at a food counter, to see a medical professional. Sitting on the floor was forbidden; sometimes we would be forced to stand for an entire day – occasionally until nightfall – before being examined by an overworked doctor, who supplemented his "egalitarian" income with monetary or material bribes from patients seeking quicker access and better care. After performing a perfunctory examination, the doctor would give us a prescription and send us away. The trouble was that the pharmacy in the nearby shopping complex had as little stock on its shelves as every other store in the country. The pharmacist, who had no ingredients with which to prepare the antibiotic the doctor had prescribed, would simply shrug, and continue to earn his state income for doing nothing.
When my mother and I would return home empty-handed, my father would go out to find the medication on the black market, paying at least ten times the official price to obtain it. In spite of the harsh sentences presented to sellers and buyers on the black market, many were willing to take the risk -- and extremely grateful. It was the only way to fill the prescription, which was supposed to be free in the communist "paradise."
After the triumph of obtaining the antibiotic, one found oneself in possession of a mixed blessing. The cardboard capsules were the size of horse pills, so large that even adults had difficulty swallowing them; for children, it was nearly impossible. All attempts at getting down the huge pill without having bitter powder fill my mouth were unsuccessful.
Moving to the United States, where doctors were paid on the basis of merit and hard work, not according to a bogus ideological "equality" imposed by a central, omnipotent government and its bureaucrats, was a blessing. American millennials, a majority of whom seem to believe in ideological social experiments that may have failed broadly elsewhere, have no clue about the literal and figurative bitter pill that people living under socialist and communist regimes are forced to swallow -- not only where health care is concerned.
Rather than rejecting the basic free-market principles of the US economy -- as a 2016 Harvard University survey found that most do -- these young Americans would do well to ask themselves why it is that so many people from countries with socialized medicine flock to the United States for treatment.
According to a recent Pew poll, support for universal health care, provided and paid for by the federal government, is higher among American millennials than among older generations. But is it there when you need it? (Image source: Mark Dixon/Blue Lens/Flickr)
Dr. Ileana Johnson is a Romanian-American writer, speaker, radio commentator and author of Echoes of Communism (Lessons from an American by Choice).