by William Lloyd Stearman, PhD


It disturbs me to hear many of my fellow conservatives refer to all national health programs and, indeed, to any “single payer” program as “socialized medicine,” a term which, as I recall, was introduced by the American Medical Association in the early 1970s. By this definition, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration and all military health programs, are single-payer government programs, that fits the definition of “socialized medicine.” It would, however, be political folly for anyone to so label these popular and widely accepted programs. (Incidentally, Medicare reportedly devotes only two percent of its outlays to overhead expenses as opposed to 12% to 20% for private health programs.) I am fond of reminding all who will listen, that national health programs were introduced to the world by arch conservative “Iron Chancellor” Prince Otto von Bismarck in Germany in 1883 and by equally conservative Emperor Franz Josef I in Austria, in 1887. Can you imagine either being labeled “Socialist?”

I lived for many years in both Austria and Germany and found that their national health programs worked, not perfectly, but usually very well. One can there, for example, still choose one’s own doctor or hospital. And doctors still make house calls. The Austrian program was especially generous, but has been forced to reduce or eliminate some of its benefits, for example, long post-operation sanatorium stays. The excellent German program depends on some 200 private insurers and is less “socialized” than health care in the U.S. as noted above. The U.S. remains the only Western industrialized country without a national health program.  These programs in other countries are often criticized by their citizens, for example, in recent years, mostly for increased co-payments, which generally still remain modest. In Great Britain, for example, there are often long waits to see a specialist. For example, there one can get on a waiting list for permission to be treated in another European Union country, but there is reportedly a long waiting list for this waiting list. On the other hand, an American friend of mine, who has lived with his British wife for several years in Great Britain and is one of the most conservative people I know (and was a special forces officer in Vietnam and Laos), has, in recent years, had to rely on the British National Health Service (NHS) for treatment of cancer and then next open heart surgery. He raves about the great treatment he has received from the NHS in both cases.  Although, as noted above, programs are criticized, one would be very hard pressed to find anyone in these European countries who would want to give up their national health plan. This holds true even in Canada whose health program is much criticized in the U.S..  The U.S. spends far more of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care than do the average countries with national programs (which usually include dental care) where virtually everybody is insured, whereas some 47 percent of Americans have no health care insurance and an even larger percent are underinsured. Moreover, by most standards, citizens in countries with these programs are generally healthier than Americans. An excellent description of various national health programs is in T. P. Reid’s book The Healing of America: A Global Quest of Cheaper and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, 2009)

This situation obviously has to change, but I cannot see how, in the foreseeable future, we could have a program like those in Europe, for example, because we now have an extremely well-entrenched system of private health insurance providers some of which are quite good. “ The so-called “Obamacare,” the 2010 Affordable Care Act health plan, has been much criticized by conservatives and others including many Democrats, and one non-conservative, Professor Arnold Relman, for example, wrote in the New York Review of Books that “the law does very little or nothing to address some of the most important causes of the high cost of care and its rapid inflation.” (Washington Post October 21, 2011) Moreover the law is being challenged in the courts. Its future is uncertain. One solution, which, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, I suggested to presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign staff, would be to extend to all Americans some form of the Federal Employees Health  Benefits Program which is now enjoyed by all U.S. Federal employees, including all members of Congress and their staffs and which can be carried over into retirement. McCain’s staff ignored my suggestion, but soon thereafter, Barack Obama, quite independently, picked up on it. The FEHBP plan offers a number of private health plan options.

The U.S. is certainly by far the most advanced country in the world when it comes to medical science; however, unfortunately most American physicians look down on often very effective “alternative medicine” which is often conventional medicine in Europe and Asia. When, for example, I have an upset stomach, I find nothing helps as much as good old-fashioned peppermint tea. I also find an infra-ray (heat) lamp ideal for treating muscular and joint aches and pains. I also use it when I have a tooth extraction (protecting my eyes with three or more layers of tinfoil covering wraparound glasses) which usually quickly eliminates swelling, bleeding and pain. This is a common practice among dentists in Central Europe, but never here. (I would like to stress that here I am simply describing what I do. Not being an M.D., I cannot recommend the above treatments for anyone else.)