HEALTHCARE….Also via Ted Barlow today, here’s a post from Matt Welch that I apparently missed on Friday because it was buried under some godawful long baseball post that caused me to surf away in terror. (Shorter Matt Welch: Angels and Dodgers in the World Series this year! Sure, Matt….)

Anyway, Matt, who is married to a Frenchwoman and who visits France regularly, was chatting with some fellow libertarians (!) about healthcare:

We had some small discussion group about De Tocqueville, and someone (naturally) brought up France’s high taxes and thick welfare state. “Well, the thing is,” Emmanuelle said (quotes are inexact), “some of the things the French state provides are pretty good. For instance health care.”

“Wait a minute wait a minute,” one guy said. “If you were sick ? I mean, really sick ? where would you rather be? France or the U.S.?”

“Um, France,” we both said.

Various sputtering ensued. What about the terrible waiting lists? (There really aren’t any.) The shoddy quality? (It’s actually quite good.) Finally, to deflect the conversation away, I said “Look, if we made twice as much money, we’d probably prefer American health care for a severe crisis. But we don’t, so we don’t.”

Hell, I make more money than Matt and if I were really sick I’d rather be in France too. I’ve read quite a bit about France’s healthcare system and it’s effin great. To put it in a nutshell, you can pick any doctor you want, the quality of care is high, the doctors themselves seem pretty happy with the way it works, and the overall cost per person is half what the American system costs. Plus it covers everyone in the country, not just 70% of them.

But all you hear about in America is that you might have to wait six months for hip replacement surgery. And indeed you might. But that’s because hip replacement surgery is usually pretty low priority stuff. On the other hand, if what you need is either routine medical care or else urgent treatment for something like a heart attack ? that is, the stuff that makes up 99% of actual real life medical care ? France is great.

I’ve long thought that the spectre of “socialized medicine” is the greatest con ever perpetrated on the American public. Think about it. Suppose you were constructing a healthcare system from scratch. Choice #1 is national healthcare along the lines of France or Sweden. (Not Britain. Their system kind of sucks.)

Choice #2 is this: if you’re employed, your employer might provide you with healthcare coverage of some kind. Anytime you change employers or your employer changes plans, your coverage and your doctor will change too. If you’re unemployed, or you work for Wal-Mart, you get nothing ? though in a pinch you can always show up at an emergency room, which is perhaps the most expensive way of delivering healthcare known to man. If you’re poor, there’s a shabby government program that will sort of cover your kids, but probably not you. If you’re over 65, another government program will cover some but not all of your medical expenses. And all of this will cost us about 14% of GDP, far more than any other industrialized country on the planet.

That’s insane. No one would design a healthcare system like that. But that’s what we have, thanks mostly to a weird set of coincidences and political compromises made around the time of World War II.

And who benefits from it? Citizens? Probably 95% of us would be better off with France’s system than with ours. Businesses? Why should they be saddled with the cost and hassle of providing healthcare? Doctors? Maybe a bit, but an awful lot of them would probably be better off in France too. Insurance carriers and pharmaceutical companies? Bingo.

The whole thing is crazy. Over the years we’ve jury rigged a bizarre system that Rube Goldberg would be ashamed of, but somehow we’re convinced that America has the best healthcare in the world. But the plain fact is that we don’t. For a tiny percentage of us, medical care here is better than in France. For the vast, vast majority, France’s system is superior to ours in practically every respect.

But ? quelle horreur! ? that would be socialized medicine. And you might have to wait six months for hip replacement surgery. Probably best just to stick with what we have. After all, the insurance industry wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

UPDATE: Kash at Angry Bear has some facts and figures to share, and he promises more later in the week.