Free Ridership in Healthcare

While I was reading one of the many articles on the presumed swine flu outbreak in Mexico there was something leaped out at me:

Only two laboratories the world, the C.D.C. in Atlanta and the Canadian national laboratory in Winnipeg, have developed the reagents needed to do a positive test for the new flu strain, so samples from any other country must be sent to them for confirmation.

Mexico is no longer a poor country. As the WTO reckons such things, it’s a middle class country, as is China. I can almost understand why Mexico hasn’t devoted resources to having the ability go be able identify the flu strain. There are lots of calls on Mexico’s resources and it isn’t a wealthy country nor an enormous one.

But how about China? China is sitting on more than a trillion dollars of foreign reserves. It has the resources. Why doesn’t it have the inclination?

And how about the United Kingdom, France, and Germany? These are all rich countries who don’t seem to have the interest in developing the resources to identify swine flu. Why not?

I think the only credible answer is that they’re quite willing to be free riders on the U. S. (and Canadian) healthcare systems. They’re willing to ride as long as we bear the freight.

4 comments… add one
  • Is the lab in Atlanta in the article one of the government labs, or one of the private labs under the CDC Foundation?

  • I’m not really sure, Alex, but I’m not sure it makes a difference, either. It’s still healthcare spending regardless of what pocket it comes from.

  • Dave — my follow-up question to your question is: are there specialized labs/services that are provided/funded by other G-7/G-20 nations that the US/Canada do not provide (I think so on a couple of issues) so is the issue a matter of free ridership as you contend or international resource coordination where Disease X is really well covered by say Italy but Disease K is covered by the US?

  • Fair enough, fester. I’d appreciate knowing some specifics about that.

    A repeated theme here has been the U. S. free ridership WRT medical education. I believe that if the U. S. healthcare system were sane we’d be exporting doctors rather than importing them and particularly we wouldn’t be importing them from poor, small countries that subsidize their medical schools.

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