The Obamacare variations

On Sunday the New York Times ran an op-ed by Cornell University economist Robert Frank on the glories of Sweden’s health care system. The column is “What Sweden can tell us about Obamacare.”

Having returned from a month in Sweden as a visiting scholar, Professor Frank had come to vouch for the Swedish system. He hadn’t been treated there or seen the system first-hand, but he had talked to a few folks (“health economists”) and been told a few things. He offered a factoid or two in support of what he had been told. His conclusion was that Republicans “must abandon their futile efforts to repeal Obamacare and focus instead on improving it.”

I thought the column was almost laughable, one step up from journalistic analysis based on a conversation with a cabbie on the way to the hotel. Or one step down. According to Professor Frank, the economists with whom he spoke were “[l]ike economists in most other countries” in that “they tend to be skeptical of large bureaucracies.” Just like Professor Frank, I’m sure.

Professor Frank holds the Swedish health care system out as something of a model. Physicians work as employees of the government and hospitals have consolidated into fewer but larger organizations to achieve economies of scale. (And, of course, smaller bureaucratic structures.) I suppose we should be grateful that Professor Frank wasn’t touting the Cuban health care system but Ray Suarez has already nailed that angle on PBS.

At NRO Jeffrey Anderson responds to Frank’s column on the merits. Anderson takes Frank’s column at face value. I appreciated Anderson’s analysis of it and, if interested, you will too. However, I read Professor Frank’s column slightly differently.

As Obamacare is implemented, each of the promises Obama made while peddling it will be proved to be false. Insurance premiums will go up, not down. Federal spending on health care will massively increase. Promised savings will fail to materialize, or recede ever further into the future. And so on.

What then? Liberals of Professor Frank’s stripe have a ready-made answer. Obamacare doesn’t go far enough, they will say. Obamacare is in need of “improvement.” We must eliminate the middleman. We must go further in the direction socializing the system to achieve savings and efficiencies. We must adopt the Swedish system, or the Canadian, or the Cuban. (Scott Atlas considers the possibilities in “The Democrats’ fallback plan…”) We must, in other words, take a cue from Obama in days of yore.


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