Capitalism and the End of Health Care as We Know It

05/25/2011 01:25 pm ET

Over the next month, pick up a newspaper or open your favorite news site, and within a few pages or clicks you should find all kinds of rhetoric on the Obama administration's attempt to reform health care. If the lobbyists do their job correctly, you'll be seeing a lot of provocative words and catch phrases. To date, some of my favorites have included "...big government picking your doctors...", "socializing medicine" and the frightening specter of Canada and Sweden -- the horror! (No doubt, we're just one good speaking point position paper away from hearing how the Taliban advocate universal health care.)

In the midst of all this, it's easy to forget some simple realities. Today, 45 million Americans go without health care, and the inability to afford it is the single largest source of personal bankruptcy. Sobering as that is at the individual level, it also speaks to the grand failure to live up to the most basic of our national ideals. The status quo is simply not consistent with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Such "luxuries" are impossible in the absence of health care. In addition, and this is where it seems to get scary for conservatives, capitalism doesn't always deliver outcomes that are good for the country as a whole.

Unlike all other aspects of the unregulated economy, health care costs rise and quality decline every year; this is projected to continue at least through 2016 according to everyone -- left, right and center. Meanwhile, many other countries spend far less (as a percentage of GDP) and have healthier populations who live longer than Americans. In the capitalist paradise, that's not supposed to happen; and yet, we're an obese, diabetic nation with an epidemic of heart disease.

As Libertarians and a few smart Republicans do point out, our current system isn't really the free market; it's a web of regulations and permitted commercial practices that have evolved over time to create a system in which a few get rich while everyone else suffers, physically and economically. Those who do benefit will defend today's failing system in a cloak of patriotism and opposition to big government. In reality, they are worried that rational change will hurt profits. If, for example, the government banded people together into national scale buying pools, we'd have real economic leverage to lower prices. That's not socialism; that's good business.

Whether you think we need more or less government and regulations, don't believe the hype about the status quo. The current resistance to change is about greed. It's time to call that out and, perhaps, do something about it.