Health care and privacy

Echidne has a tremendous post about health care, explaining exactly why a purely governmental system works better than a mixed system. In the US, she shows, the one purely governmental system, the Veterans’ Administration program, delivers better care than mixed Medicare at a lower cost. People who suggest to universalize health coverage in the US by expanding Medicare should read her post next time they talk about health care.

About the one remaining argument for private care that isn’t ridiculous is that public health care involves governmental databases of medical data, which could infringe on people’s privacy. That is, of course, an entirely legitimate concern: a government that can spy on people’s medical data is an excessive one no matter how good its health system is.

However, that concern is also empirical. In Britain, hardly a civil libertarian heaven, the government maintains medical records. In the US, corporations do. In Britain, I don’t know of any large-scale violation of medical privacy. In the US, it happens all the time and the government doesn’t do anything.

Entrusting personal information, including medical data, to the government is never a good thing; but it apparently beats entrusting that information to private corporations, which have an incentive to sell your data to telemarketers, spammers, and other undesirables.

2 Responses to Health care and privacy

  1. Axel says:

    Good point! But I’m always perplexed by the fact that data privacy is not highly legislated or regulated in the U.S. According to Wikipedia, “access to private data is culturally acceptable in many cases”, contrary to Europe where “[t]he right to data privacy is heavily regulated and rigidly enforced[…]”. That’s really strange and I could instantly mention a lot of very problematic examples that are quite common in the U.S. and illegal in European countries. Do you have any explanation for this counterintuitive “cultural” difference?

  2. Alon Levy says:

    I really don’t, Axel. I presume that it’s part of the idea of negative vs. positive rights: in the US, privacy means that the government can’t access your personal data unless it really wants to, whereas in Europe it means that plus that corporations aren’t allowed to access your information. But I have no evidence, so you should stamp this with the words “Ex recto.”

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