Socialist Health Plan? In Norway, Obama's Plan Not Even Close

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Common Dreams

Socialist Health Plan? In Norway, Obama's Plan Not Even Close

If Michael Steele and the Republicans really believe that President Obama is proposing a socialist health plan, they need to get out more.

I've just returned from a research trip to Norway, where their universal health system really is socialist.  It's also much less expensive than the current U.S. system, so maybe the Republicans would like it if they checked it out.  The non-socialists in Norway support it because it works so well, especially compared with "the bad old days" of private medicine, when even the doctors' association advocated for socialized medicine as the only affordable way to make quality care available to all Norwegians.

One reason Norwegians like their system is that it's pro- economic innovation because it's not tied to the employer.  Norwegians are free to change jobs for more challenging opportunities, or try their wings as entrepreneurs, because they don't have to worry about insurance - it's with them wherever they go.  Economist Jonathan Gruber of MIT is one of many economists who believe that U.S. employer-tied health insurance is a drag on progress.  But Obama's plan accepts the status quo even though it might not be affordable.

Norwegians like their system because it cuts red tape.  The patient-doctor relationship isn't complicated by multiple insurances; if you need care, you get it as a matter of right.  No bills to pay, no plans to juggle, no worry about your dependents, and no worry about your becoming a burden to your children.

Because Norwegians are practical, they enjoy saving money for quality health care.  On a per capita basis, Norwegians spend $4,763 per year, and cover everyone, while U.S.'ers spend $7,290.  By various standards of health quality, like life expectancy or rate of preventable deaths, Norway does better than the U.S.  One key measure is physicians per capita: the U.S. has 2.43 physicians compared with Norway's 4 doctors per 1,000 population, even though Norway spends a third less of its Gross Domestic Product on health care than the U.S. does.  (These numbers are from Bruce Bartlett, Forbes magazine columnist who was a former U.S. Treasury Department economist.)

While in Norway I did hear complaints - Norwegians famously believe everything can work better than it does - but I didn't interview anyone, from left wing to right wing, who would change the basic system.  Maybe it's time for U.S. politicians to learn from what other countries are doing right.

George Lakey

George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining. E-mail: glakey1@swarthmore.edu

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