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Annals of Government Medicine, Venezuela Edition

The Associated Press reports on the state of health care in socialist Venezuela:

Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela’s downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez’s death from cancer in March. Doctors say it’s impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn’t keep such numbers, just as it hasn’t published health statistics since 2010.

Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions.

Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines…are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients – meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, said Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

The scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend. What caused it?

Driving the crisis in health care are the same forces that have left Venezuelans scrambling to find toilet paper, milk and automobile parts.

That’s right–Venezuela doesn’t have any toilet paper, either. The AP doesn’t say it, but the cause of all these shortages is the same: socialism. But, hey, look on the bright side. Everyone in Venezuela gets “free” medical care!

The country’s 1999 constitution guarantees free universal health care to Venezuelans, who sit on the world’s largest proven oil reserves. President Nicolas Maduro’s government insists it’s complying. Yet of the country’s 100 fully functioning public hospitals, nine in 10 have just 7 percent of the supplies they need, Natera said.

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The one thing Venezuela has going for it is that a limited private health care system still exists. But in a country destroyed by socialism, only so much can be done:

Venezuela’s 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which must be imported, said Dr. Carlos Rosales, president of the association that represents them.

The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country’s patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance. Rosales said insurers, many state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and it is nearly impossible to meet payrolls and pay suppliers.

Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer.

“The health care crisis is an economic crisis. It is not a medical crisis,” said Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, who oversees labs at the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas.

Of course. That is always true. Several years ago, I discussed health care with a British filmmaker. While he was sympathetic to freedom in some contexts, he expressed the view that health care is so important that it should be socialized. I replied that his thinking was exactly backward: because health care is so important, it is vital that it have the benefit of our best system, which is free enterprise, not our worst system, which is socialism.

Liberals who want the United States to adopt a “single payer” system should pay closer attention to the devastation single payer has wrought in Venezuela. And if some liberals say that isn’t a fair comparison because Venezuela has an incompetent socialist government, I say: Yes, exactly. You’re starting to catch on.

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