Sunday, May 07, 2006

Our Snaggle-Toothed Future?

If you're one of those folks who favor a single-payer, national health care system, take a look at this article from todays' edition of The New York Times.

In Britain, where dental care falls under their national health care system, the shortage of dentists has become so acute that many Brits are now doing their own extractions and other dental procedures. The Times interviewed a gentleman named William Kelly who has already pulled one of his own teeth (leaving a blackened, jagged stump), and he plans to do another extraction in the near future. By his own admission, Kelly (who hasn't seen a dentist in at least six years) can't find a national health program dentist that is willing to take him on as a new patient.

In a system where virtually all health care procedures are rationed, many British dentists arenow abandoning the national health system for private practice, where they operate without government-imposed limits on the number of fillings, cleanings and extractions that can be performed each year. According to the British Dental Association, at least 2,000 dentists left the national health plan for private practice in April alone, and more are sure to follow. Nationwide, the number of national health plan participants with access to a dentist continues to decline, and Britain's reputation for rotten teeth--long fodder for comedians both at home and abroad--seems to be emerging as a political issue.

Reading the article, you should thank their molars that we've resisted (so far) the temptation to nationalize our health care system. Few of us enjoy going to the dentist, left alone paying bills for crowns, braces, and other expensive procedures. But quality dental care remains readily available in our country, and to a certain degree, affordable.

It's also a question of personal priorities. In the photo that accompanied the Times article, I spied several tatoos on Mr. Kelly's exposed hand and arm. Apparently, he has enough money for "body art," but none for a dental work. Likewise, the Times interviewed several Brits who plan to seek dental care abroad, in countries like Hungary and India. While the cost of these "dental holidays" is lower than comparable, private treatment in London, they are not inexpensive. That suggests that many Brits are quite willing to pay for quality dental care, but they need a system which favors market forces and increased competition--not a single payer program and procedure "rationing."

National health care remains a dream of the American left, and in particular, a certain Senator from New York. If the Democrats regain control of the White House in 2008, the health care issue is likely to surface again, and some liberals will actually cite the British system as a model for the United States. If you want to take a look at American dental care under a nationalized system, look no further than Britain, and its legacy of bad teeth and (increasingly) do-it-yourself dentistry.

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