In a bit of damage control over the criticism of VA waiting times Tim Noah retorts that the private sector is little better:
News stories about the Phoenix VA and some other bad actors indicate the wait can be many months, but an internal VA estimate—one based on “hard” time stamps and therefore less vulnerable to manipulation than the records allegedly falsified — puts the average wait at about 21 days.
Directly comparable data for the private sector are unavailable. But a 2014 survey of physician wait times found the average private-sector wait time to be 18.5 days – two and a half days less than at the VA. In Boston, which has a high concentration of top-quality private-sector hospitals, the average wait time was 45.4 days.
He’s right that there are potentially long waiting times in healthcare beyond the Veterans Administration. He’s wrong in thinking of it as the “private sector”.
The number, size, and placement of hospitals aren’t determined by market forces. They’re determined by state regulators and physicians in collaboration. The same is the case with the number of doctors and nurses. Med schools are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, essentially an arm of the American Medical Association, the physicians’ guild. It’s a little more complicated in nursing but the final outcome is the same: the number of nurses that are trained is determined by a guild.
Add to that the two-thirds of healthcare spending that derives from government in one form or another and you have our healthcare system. Describing any part of it as “the private sector” is, at the very least, a great exaggeration. It’s as centrally planned as Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Note that I’m not arguing for a free market healthcare system. I’m just the little boy pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, in this case that there is no private sector healthcare worthy of the name.
Rather than setting up false dichotomies between government healthcare and private sector healthcare I think we would be much better served by wondering why so large a proportion of the total welfare produced by our system is reaped in the form of producer surplus.