President Obama has declared the Affordable Care Act a success—a reform that is “here to stay.” The question remains, however: What should we expect to come out of it, and do we want the effects to stay? If the experiences of Sweden and other countries with universal health care are any indication, patients will soon start to see very long wait times and difficulty getting access to care.
Sweden is praised as a rare example of a socialist country that works. A closer look at its health-care system tells a different story.
The overall quality of medical services delivered by Sweden’s universal public health care consistently ranks among the world’s very best. That quality can be achieved by regulating treatments to follow specific diagnoses as well as by standardizing procedures. If ObamaCare regulations do this, the quality of American health care may not go down either.
Sweden’s problem is access to care. According to the Euro Health Consumer Index 2013, Swedish patients suffer from inordinately long wait times to get an appointment with a doctor, specialist treatment or even emergency care. Wait times are Europe’s longest, and Swedes dependent on the public-health system have to wait months or even years for certain procedures, or are denied treatment.
For example, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare reports that as of 2013, the average wait time (from referral to start of treatment) for “intermediary and high risk” prostate cancer is 220 days. In the case of lung cancer, the wait between an appointment with a specialist and a treatment decision is 37 days.
This waiting is what economists call rationing—the delay or even failure to provide care due to government budgetary decisions. So the number of people seeking care far outweighs the capabilities of providers, translating into insurance in name but not in practice. This is likely to be a result of ObamaCare as well.
Rationing is an obvious effect of economic planning in place of free-market competition. Free markets allow companies and entrepreneurs to respond to demand by offering people what they want and need at a better price. Effective and affordable health care comes from decentralized innovation and risk-taking as well as freedom in pricing and product development. The Affordable Care Act does the opposite by centralizing health care, minimizing or prohibiting differentiation in pricing and offerings, and mandating consumers to purchase insurance. It effectively overrides the market and the signals it sends about supply and demand.
See also, Bylund’s Mises Daily articles on health care and Sweden’s economic system: