By MILTON FRIEDMAN
Wall Street Journal
(courtesy Kjos Ministries)
The following statements from “The Cancer Ward” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn were quoted in a 1996 article with above title by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who died in 2006.
Editor’s note: “In a chapter in his novel ‘The Cancer Ward’ titled ‘The Old Doctor,’ Alexander Solzhenitsyn compares ‘private medical practice’ with ‘universal, free, public health service’ through the words of an elderly physician whose practice predated 1918…. In Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s words,
“among all these persecutions [of the old doctor] the most persistent and stringent had been directed against the fact that Doctor Oreschenkov clung stubbornly to his right to conduct a private medical practice, although this was forbidden.”
In Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s words, “among all these persecutions [of the old doctor] the most persistent and stringent had been directed against the fact that Doctor Oreschenkov clung stubbornly to his right to conduct a private medical practice, although this was forbidden.”
In the words of Dr. Oreschenkov in conversation with Lyudmila Afanasyevna, a longtime patient and herself a physician in the cancer ward: “In general, the family doctor is the most comforting figure in our lives. But he has been cut down and foreshortened. . . . Sometimes it’s easier to find a wife than to find a doctor nowadays who is prepared to give you as much time as you need and understands you completely, all of you.”
Lyudmila Afanasyevna: “All right, but how many of these family doctors would be needed? They just can’t be fitted into our system of universal, free, public health services.”
Dr. Oreschenkov: “Universal and public—yes, they could. Free, no.”
Lyudmila Afanasyevna: “But the fact that it is free is our greatest achievement.”
Dr. Oreschenkov: “Is it such a great achievement? What do you mean by ‘free’? The doctors don’t work without pay. It’s just that the patient doesn’t pay them, they’re paid out of the public budget. The public budget comes from these same patients. Treatment isn’t free, it’s just depersonalized. If the cost of it were left with the patient, he’d turn the ten rubles over and over in his hands. But when he really needed help he’d come to the doctor five times over….
“Is it better the way it is now? You’d pay anything for careful and sympathetic attention from the doctor, but everywhere there’s a schedule, a quota the doctors have to meet; next! … And what do patients come for? For a certificate to be absent from work, for sick leave, for certification for invalids’ pensions: and the doctor’s job is to catch the frauds. Doctor and patient as enemies—is that medicine?”
“Depersonalized,” “doctor and patient as enemies”—those are the key phrases in the growing body of complaints about health maintenance organizations and other forms of managed care. In many managed care situations, the patient no longer regards the physician who serves him as “his” or “her” physician responsible primarily to the patient; and the physician no longer regards himself as primarily responsible to the patient. His first responsibility is to the managed care entity that hires him….
For the first 30 years of my life, until World War II, that kind of practice was the norm. Individuals were responsible for their own medical care. They could pay for it out-of-pocket or they could buy insurance. “Sliding scale” fees plus professional ethics assured that the poor got care. On entry to a hospital, the first question was “What’s wrong?” not “What is your insurance?”… Click here to read entire article.