Matt Patterson

In 1997, Brian Booy of Bristol in the United Kingdom was diagnosed with angina, a chest pain caused by coronary heart disease, and was told he needed triple bypass surgery.

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Unfortunately, he made the grave mistake of getting ill in Great Britain, where government management of the health industry contributes to massive shortages of everything from doctors to hospital beds and vaccines. Mr. Booy waited a year and a half for his life-saving surgery, which he never received; he died of a massive heart attack in January of 1999.

His is just one of the many heartbreaking stories featured in "Shattered Lives: 100 Victims of Government Health Care," by Amy Ridenour and Ryan Balis at The National Center For Public Policy Research. Mr. Booy's case is no anomaly: According to the BBC, Dr. Peter Wilde, clinical director for the Bristol Royal Infirmary's cardiac unit, admitted that same year that "10 patients may have died because they had to wait too long for operations."

Long waits and shortages result from government control of the health sector. There are only so many hospitals, only so many doctors. When government promises that everyone will be treated (ostensibly) gratis, it does not simultaneously conjure more doctors into existence. Instead, doctors face more patients, who are now likely to seek treatment more often because they perceive it to be free. The result is long lines, long waits, substandard care.

But it's worse than that. Not only does the socialization of medicine fail to produce more doctors, it actually shrinks the pool. In our free-market system, being a good doctor can be financially rewarding. This matters, because becoming a good doctor is a long, arduous, expensive proposition. Remove the profit incentive and you are guaranteed to have fewer doctors.

The free market has been good to our doctors: General practitioners in the U.S. have almost twice the average monthly net income as their counterparts in Britain's National Health Service, according to worldsalaries.org. Unfortunately, American doctors see in Britain their future under ObamaCare: increased regulation and taxation coupled with decreased earnings. They are deciding en masse that it may not be worth it: A September 2009 Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll of practicing physicians found that "hundreds of thousands would think about shutting down their practices or retiring early" if ObamaCare makes it into law.

Think about that. Obama promises to expand coverage to every American, but no new doctors will be co-created for this enterprise. In fact, many doctors are telling us that they will shutter their doors if ObamaCare is enacted.

But at least your medical care will be "free," under the new regime, just like Brian Booy's was.

And on top of it all, government will also add its standard bureaucratic idiocy and insult to the medical-care mix: One year after Mr. Booy died, his wife Pat received a letter saying that her husband had at last been given an appointment for his surgery.

Proponents of government-run health care will tell you that the free market unfairly rations health care by making it unaffordable to some, and that their solution will fix this gross inequity. But resources are always and everywhere rationed because resources are always and everywhere finite. Government control does not fix this it only makes it worse. Just ask the widow Pat Booy.


Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and contributor to Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010). His email is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.