Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama's Iraq War (Except With a Higher Body Count)

President Obama is stubbornly going all out in his attempt to bring socialized medicine to the United States (yes, I know he isn't calling it that, but there is no doubt as too his ultimate goal). If he succeeds in destroying the finest health care system in the world, it may just do for him politically what the Iraq War did for George W. Bush. Of course, the casualties of a European-style health system would likely be much higher.

Consider the comparative age-adjusted five year survival rates for all cancers:
Europe: 47.3% for men and 55.8% for women,
USA: 66.3% for men and 62.9% for women
(Source: a 2007 study in Lancet Oncology via medscape)

The estimated number of new cancer cases in 2009 in the United States:
Men: 766,130
Women: 713,220
(Source: American Cancer Society)

The survival rate statistics suggest that of the 1,479,350 new cancer cases, 522,790 will pass away over the next five years. If Obamacare brings the United States cancer survival rates down to European levels, that number would jump to 718,993; an extra 196,203 deaths over five years. The extra cancer deaths (and remember this is only among those diagnosed in 2009) over five years would be 38 times the 5081 American casualties in the Iraq war to date.

We may not like it, but the fact of the matter is that financial incentives do work. A for-profit cancer center has every incentive to cure you -- having a high survival rate tends to attract more customers. In a government system, if they cure you, they don't stand to make more money, but to lose more on future treatments down the road. Of course, the government health care workers and bureaucrats' sense of compassion will greatly overwhelm their cost-cutting instincts and they will do their best to cure you. But there is no reason to believe that the workers at a for-profit center would be any less humanitarian. Even if the financial incentive is small by comparison, a little bit can mean a lot.

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