Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If you can’t deliver the mail, how can you deliver health care?

Before we blithely run off and give the government control of our health care system, keep this in mind…

Post office cited by GAO as a troubled agency

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday added the Postal Service to its list of high-risk federal agencies in need of change.

The post office has been struggling with a sharp decline in mail volume as people and businesses switch to e-mail both for personal contact and bill paying. The agency is facing a nearly $7 billion potential loss this fiscal year despite a 2-cent increase in the price of stamps in May, and cuts in staff.

"There are serious and significant structural financial challenges currently facing the Postal Service," the GAO said.

When I read that to my wife this morning, she quipped “And they want to give the government control of health care.” The postal service has a virtual monopoly on mail. Bulk mail, letters, etc. all run through the postal service. If you want to send a regular letter or mail back a bill, you pretty much have to use the Postal Service. It seems like a small amount, but think how often the price of first class postage goes up. It seems like it is an annual event and from a percentage standpoint it is a big increase each time. They still can’t get it right!

The post office does what we expect. You put a stamp on a letter and put it in the mail box and it probably arrives on time at its destination. I am not sure if we have numbers on how efficient they are, but the private sector has been replacing the postal service with package delivery through Fed Ex and UPS and technology has been driving nails into the postal service coffin through fax machines, email and online bill payment. I probably haven’t used ten stamps over the course of the last couple years. On the other hand…

We probably don’t want a private company to replace the post office. We know it is flawed and inherently inefficient but it is a cornerstone of America. The postal carrier goes by your house every day even if you don’t get mail for a week. It serves an invaluable and uniquely governmental role and it does so in a typically governmental way. They deliver mail when they want, not when you want. It comes the same time every day, they get a ton of holidays off and are talking about reducing the number of delivery days. Postal workers get paid a ton of money when you think about their skill set and getting a job there is hopelessly convoluted. It is inefficient but it fills an important niche, one that is less important than it was in the 1950’s but important nevertheless.

Is that how we want our health care delivered? Because believe me, if we turn it over to the government that is exactly how it will be delivered. When the government wants, how the government wants. Costs will rise and no one will be able to do a thing about it. Quality will drop because our best and brightest will choose other professions. The system will get sucked dry by hypochondriacs and the more important health issues will be impacted. The deficit will keep on rising and nothing the Obama administration has proposed will even scratch the surface and everyone who is being honest knows it.

The free market and innovation have made many functions of the postal service obsolete and those same forces have given us lifesaving drug after lifesaving drug. Hospitals compete with each other and they offer better care because of it. The market has decided that medical care is a premier service and pays doctors accordingly, which leads to the smartest kids going into medicine. People live a lot longer now not because of government intervention but because of free market competition and *GASP* profit motive.

Let the government stick to the business of delivering the mail inefficiently and try to focus on securing our borders. If they can’t even get those two basic functions right, why would we trust them with our health?
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