Less Than Zero

Erin Riley tweets from Australia:

Apparently all I need to do to get my Swine Flu shot is rock up at the doctor’s tomorrow. And it’s free. #ilovesocializedmedicine

Something that tends to get obscured in the health care debate is that a number of very different kinds of activities are undertaken under the banner of “health care.” When it comes to cutting-edge medical treatments, you can see the case for a robust private sector role — it’s about innovation.

But an awful lot of medical care is extremely routine. Someone falls and breaks his leg and needs the broken bone set. Someone needs stitches. Someone needs a strep throat test. If the test is positive, he needs antibiotics. Vaccines need to be administered. In situations like these, innovation is really not at issue. And with some of this stuff, like with the H1N1 vaccines, there’s a substantial public health issue in play. You really, really, really want the people who need the vaccine to get the vaccine. It’s much cheaper to give a vulnerable person a vaccine than to treat them after they get sick. And of course getting enough people vaccinated against things like measles is crucial to preventing new epidemics from happening. This sick of basic health care should really be free — perhaps provided by a robust national public health service with a nationwide network of clinics. In fact, ideally it would be cheaper than free so that nobody goes without the appropriate level of vaccinations, blood pressure tests, etc.