Monday, August 10, 2009

Arguing Socialized Medicine

In the ongoing, rather incoherent, debate on health care reform many liberal pundits keep defending against the charge of “socialized medicine” by saying that we already have such a thing, and that we call it Medicare. Lawrence O’Donnell is particularly fond of firing back at conservatives to the effect that he will give credence to their belief when they decline their Social Security checks and refuse Medicare.

Either they don’t understand Socialism, or they don’t understand Medicare, or I’m missing something. Here’s the definition of Socialism,

Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

Medicare consists of individuals paying money into a trust fund and then, at some point, using that money to pay for medical care which is provided by privately owned medical facilities and doctors in private practice. How, precisely does that fit any part of the definition of Socialism? Where is the “collective or governmental ownership of the means of providing” anything part of that program?

Social Security, similarly, consists of individuals paying money into a trust fund and then, at some point, using that money to pay for groceries and many other things which they buy from privately owned stores and providers. There’s no communal or governmental ownership here either.

Admittedly both programs are not optional, but not everything that is mandated is Socialism. Requiring a driver’s license is not usually claimed to be Socialism; Fascism, maybe, but not Socialism.

A commenter at Balloon Juice pointed out that Medicare is socialized health insurance. That is a good point, and part of the probem in the debate is that Obama and many other supporters of reform use “health care” and “health insurance” interchangeably. They are not, of course, the same thing.

The Veteran’s Administration Health System, which is voluntary, is socialized medicine and widely recognized as being one of the best medical care providers in the world. A few canards are still being spread about it as leftovers from it’s pre-1990’s makeover, and there are definitely problems getting into the system from the military medical systems, but one hears very few complaints from people who are presently receiving care in that government-owned medical care system.

The socialized medicine argument is a silly one anyway, because the inevitable conservative response is to the effect of, “Fine, so let’s get rid of Social Security and Medicare.” That doesn’t advance one’s argument for health care reform very much.

So against a charge of socialized medicine it makes a lot more sense to say, “It isn’t socialized medicine, you moron,” than it does to claim that we already have socialized medicine.

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