Those fantastic socialist medical systems

Mona Charen
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Posted: Aug 15, 2003 12:00 AM

The Washington Post ran a front-page story the other day about the "health gap" between Eastern and Western Europe. "As Hungary and nine other countries prepare to join the European Union next May, the bloc's leaders are paying much attention to closing the ‘wealth gap' between the low-income, former communist East and the affluent West. But little has been said about the equally wide ‘health gap.' ... Hungary ranked first in the world for the rate of cancer deaths among men and women in 2000, according to the American Cancer Society. For men, the other Eastern European countries held the second through seventh places. ... A person born in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland is likely to have a shorter life than someone born in Sweden, Italy, Spain or France."

What's interesting about this story (aside from the obvious) is that it so casually acknowledges a reality that was, until very recently, hotly denied by the kinds of people who write for The Washington Post. I refer to the fact that in all ways , including quality of life and very much including health care, the communist countries were vastly inferior to the free West.

During the Cold War, liberals were always telling us that while the communist states certainly could not claim to have political liberty, they had outperformed the harsh, capitalist West in terms of social services. The communist health care systems were very much lauded and admired. Why, in the Soviet Union, they gushed, health care was "free" and nearly all of the doctors were women. A two-fer!

As I recount in my recent book "Useful Idiots," liberals remained melancholy about communism's passing for several years following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much of the post-1989 reporting from the region was characterized by nostalgia for the communist era. On April 11, 1990, CBS's Bert Quint filed a report from Poland: "This is Marlboro country, Southeastern Poland, a place where the transition from communism to capitalism is making people more miserable every day. ... No lines at the shops now, but plenty at some of the first unemployment centers in a part of the world where socialism used to guarantee everybody a job."

Tamara Jones, writing in the Los Angeles Times, noted, "Ten months after the new Germany emerged, women in the eastern sector are coming to the stunning realization that, in many ways, democracy has set them back 40 years." A U.S. News and World Report dispatch made the same point about women in the east: "Like many other women in what used to be the German Democratic Republic, she worries that political liberalization has cost her social and economic freedom. ... The kindergartens that cared for their children are becoming too expensive, and West Germany's more restrictive abortion laws threaten to deny many Eastern women a popular form of birth control." (Oh, but remember, here in the United States, land of abortion for any or no reason, the procedure is never, ever used as a method of birth control -- or so say the feminists.)

When the Soviet Union went out of business, the real state of its health care system -- indeed all social services -- was revealed at last. Instead of the gleaming socialist clinics presided over by crisp female physicians, we found a Third World system without even the rudiments of modern plumbing, far less modern medical equipment. As Robert Conquest wrote in"Reflections on a Ravaged Century," Moscow's health minister acknowledged in 1991 that half of the hospitals in the (capital) had no sewerage, 80 percent lacked hot water, and some 17 percent did not have running water of any sort."

And yet the idiocy persists and persists. We are still subjected to glowing reports about Cuba's "free" universal health care and world-beating literacy levels.

Today, The Washington Post can write that in Eastern Europe, "The countries communist officials ... left behind a threadbare health care system with equipment that barely functions and doctors so poorly paid that most expect cash in an envelope from patients to top off their government salaries." Further, Germany spends $2,422 per person on health care each year, while Hungary spends about $315 and Poland just $246."

It's amazing, isn't it, how capitalism has destroyed the wonderful health care systems of the communist east?