Sweden’s Healthcare Failures: A Warning to U.S.

David Hogberg of the National Policy Center has an interesting, in depth study of the mess that is Sweden’s single payer healthcare system from 2007 that is very relevant to today’s discussion of Obamacare because much of what Obama wants has already proving a failure in Sweden.

“The experience of Sweden demonstrates,” Hogberg says, “that when a nation adopts market-oriented reform for its health care system, the reforms will fail if the market is not permitted to work.”

Hogberg discusses some of the detailed changes that Sweden made to its system in the 1980s. These changes were made because costs were getting out of control and the government felt some market forces needed to be added to the system to help balance it. But the efforts were half measures that didn’t work.

Unfortunately, waiting lists began to increase in 1994 and in late 1996 the Patient Choice and Guarantee was abandoned. By the early part of this decade, most counties once again faced a problem with waiting lists.

Hogberg went on…

In practice, the political notion of “equal access” actually means “restricted access.” Swedes who do not have private insurance must wait, often for months, for treatment. For all Swedes who needed an operation in 2003, slightly more than half waited more than three months. The situation continues. Moreover, patients often wait in great pain and distress.

Hogberg also notes that because of long waits for treatment, people are sicker for longer periods of time and many have prolonged stays in hospitals coasting the government more money there.

Here was Hogberg’s conclusion:

While Sweden is a first world country, its health care system – at least in regards to access – is closer to the third world. Because the health care system is heavily-funded and operated by the government, the system is plagued with waiting lists for surgery. Those waiting lists increase patients’ anxiety, pain and risk of death.

Sweden’s health care system offers two lessons for the policymakers of the United States. The first is that a single-payer system is not the answer to the problems faced as Americans. Sweden’s system does not hold down costs and results in rationing of care. The second lesson is that market-oriented reforms must permit the market to work. Specifically, government should not protect health care providers that fail to provide patients with a quality service from going out of business.

When the United States chooses to reform its health care system, reform should lead to improvement. Reforming along the lines of Sweden would only make our system worse.

This is a very scary report and it proves that Obamacare cannot create cost efficient and healthy medical coverage.

(Cross posted at HealthcareHorseRace.com.)

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