The Profit Motive vs. Socialized Medicine: A Blast from the Past

Given yesterday’s topic, this blast from the past seems to fit:

People like to talk about the problems with private medicine in the US but don’t recognize the problems that can come with, or even because of, socialized medicine.

Well, I’ve had some experiences of my own with “socialized medicine” over the years.  Let’s start with the UK.

UK1: When I was in the Air Force, I lived in the UK for two years. One of my co-workers was married. The small base we were assigned to did not have its own hospital. Any medical care beyond cold and flu bugs that wasn’t severe enough to be evacuated was handled by local UK hospitals. This included my co-worker’s wife’s pregnancy.

It was a second child so the pregnancy was “routine” (It Says Here). She had a problem with hemorrhaging with the first child but a second was “routine”, by policy. The doctors were warned of the problem but a second pregnancy was routine. After the child was born, she started bleeding. She bled to death in the hospital. A “routine” childbirth (even though the first had had the exact same problem and the doctors had been told that) and she bled to death in the f*king hospital.

Oh, your wife died? Too bad, so sad. But how could we know something like this could happen since it was a routine pregnancy? You told us? But it was a routine pregnancy.


UK2: At the same time there was a great debate going on among doctors regarding the subject of “crib death” (was still being called “SIDS”–Sudden Infant Death Syndrome–back then I believe). A very popular theory was that it was a result of maternal neglect/negligence if not outright what would now be called Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. That “theory” had been thoroughly debunked in the US for literally decades. But in the UK a mother who just lost her baby was as likely as not to have the added burden of having her doctor blame her for the loss.


Another “poster child” for socialized medicine is Japan.

Japan1: My wife’s uncle had cancer. I visited him in the hospital once. Filthy place. Seriously. If I ever get seriously ill or injured in Japan, stabilize me and get me out of there if you have to send me on deck space on a freighter. That’s only moderate hyperbole.

Eventually he was deemed an “unlikely prospect” for a cure. Treatment was cut off including pain medication. In the end he ended up dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire. I am dead serious. No hyperbole. He literally burned himself to death rather than face the untreated pain of his progressing cancer.


Japan2: While visiting Japan on business I attended a Judo club as a guest (Judo was my sport of choice at that time). In the course of randori I managed to sprain my shoulder. Not “serious” in any major way but lordy did it hurt. I could not buy over the counter pain medication anywhere. Not aspirin, not acetaminophen, not ibuprofin, not naproxen sodium, nothing. They have some topical “pain patches” (and predated their availability in the US) but those were worthless for anything like this). The only “pain killer” available was ethanol but . . . I don’t drink. Short of going to the hospital (and my guide at the company I was visiting did suggest that but see above) there was nothing I could do except apply ice and tough it out.


Japan3: While returning from another business trip I tripped on an escalator in Tokyo station and sprained my ankle. It didn’t seem to bad at first but by the time I got to Narita it was quite painful. Fortunately (yeah, right) there was an actual medical clinic in Narita right off the walkway from the train station. I stopped in there (Yeah, I’m not covered by their “national health care” but I could pay for it so I figured….)

When I got in, I was told simply that the orthopedist was not in and so nobody could look at my ankle. Excuse me? A sprain, something anybody in the US with MD, or even PA, after their name could handle and they couldn’t even look at it and splint it/tape it up/ or something? They had to have a specialist come in for even a sprained ankle?

So the question there becomes, are doctors who aren’t specialists in orthopedics not trained in diagnosis and treatments of things like sprains or are they simply forbidden based on the government control that always comes with government payment?


And those are just the experiences I was personally involved with.  I also know some ex-pats from various countries with “socialized medicine”.

This is, of course, the point where someone will say “but I’ve experienced socialized medicine and had good experiences.”  Well, does your good experiences make my bad experiences go away any more than my good experiences with American health care make the bad experiences that are cited as reasons for going to “socialized medicine” go away?  If those bad experiences count on the one side then mine count on the other.  And once you recognize that “socialized medicine” has its own problems the choice of which is “better” is no longer so “obvious” as proponents would like to claim.  If all we had to go on were a listing of anecdotes about “bad results” and “if onlies” there would be nothing to choose from between them because both have their anecdotes.  But that’s not all we have to go with.

On the flip side, the castigating of medicine, insurance, and medical support (equipment, pharmaceuticals, and what not) being “profit motivated” has come up in another forum.  Part of this is recap from an earlier, shorter posting on the same subject but here’s my response:

“There are certain necessities in life, and medication is one.” So how did we get along before these medicines were invented/discovered? And even if so, you might want to consider how many new, effective, treatments and medications have come out of the West where people have, to some extent at least, been allowed to profit from their work than have come out of, say, the old Soviet Union over the same time frame.

You (that’s you personally, whoever you might be) have access to far more in the way of medical treatment and medications because companies like Dow and Lilly were allowed to make money than if we had followed some ivory tower “good of society” model.

At my age, I take quite a few medications. More than half of them are “$4 generics” at my local Kroger, that’s $4 flat without insurance, and that’s medicines that didn’t even exist when I was a boy, medicines that only exist because companies like Lilly and Dow have been profitable places for people to invest money, have paid high salaries to attract some scary smart researchers and technicians to develop these new medicines and treatments.

Without these newer medicines I would be limited to the medicines my parents and grandparents had, medicines that were less effective, or with more and more severe side effects.  Thanks, but no.

Companies, with a profit motive developed smaller and less expensive X-Ray units.  Because of this my doctor has one in his office.  When I have an impact or joint injury I can get an X-Ray right there–immediately–without needing to go to the ER or scheduling an appointment with a hospital radiology department.  Less expensive and quicker diagnosis.

The same profit motive led to the development of portable EKG machines which my doctor also keeps in his office.  My annual exam includes an EKG every time.  Should I start to develop heart problems early diagnosis means early treatment with much better chances for my continued breathing. (I’m in favor of breathing and would like to continue doing it.) [Edit, 2017:  As of my last exam that had changed.  New regulation.  Ne government regulations, had required the insurance to no longer cover EKG’s as part of the annual exam.  Now they’re only covered after some heart problem is indicated.  Thus, thanks to the interference of government “helping” with health care, I am at more risk and the use of diagnostic tools that might save my life is delayed.]

The same profit motive led to the CAT scan unit being right there in my local hospital after my last auto accident. (Rear ended by a Tahoe while I was leaning forward to change stations on the radio putting me at about the worst possible posture for a whiplash injury.)  They’re everywhere.  They’re everywhere because people with profit motive made them available.

The same profit motive led to improvements in glucometers so I can quickly and reliably check my blood sugar with less pain and fuss than my mother did a scant two decades ago.

I could go on and on.

And if I can’t afford the latest and greatest? Well, I didn’t have it before either so I can’t really complain that much. And if only the latest and greatest can save my life and I don’t have it? Well, sucks to be me in that case, I guess. But although I may not have it, my daughter will. After all, yesterday’s “latest and greatest” is today’s “cheap and ubiquitous”.  But hamstring the Lillys and Dows of the world by undercutting profit and going to some Marxist “according to his need” (which is what that “they are necessities” amounts to) and she won’t.

And that, I can never forgive.

You can keep your socialized medicine.  Just keep it far away from me.

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