Universal Health Care in Practice – Socialization (Part 1)

Imagine that you are at a restaurant. You sit down with your family, get your drinks, and wait for your waitress to come back so you can order dinner. Eventually she comes back and you tell her the entree you want. She writes it all down, then takes your credit card so she can charge you for your meal. (It’s a fast food restaurant where you pay before your meal, and then they deliver it to you, like Carl’s Jr.) So, you’re talking and drinking, and about ten minutes later your server comes back with all the food, except for yours. This doesn’t immediately bother you, but she leaves without saying anything and a few minutes pass without any indication of what happened to your food. Your family starts eating and you wave down your server to ask where you food is.

“Well, I guess yours got lost.”

“Lost? What do you mean, lost?”

“It didn’t make it to your table. It’s not a big deal, it happens occasionally.”

“I don’t understand. Can I have another meal?”

“Sure, I’ll just need your credit card back so I can place another order.”

“I already paid for a meal, I don’t want to pay again.”

“I’m sorry. If you wanted your meal guaranteed you could have paid for insurance. Then, in the case that you didn’t get your meal you could have gotten a replacement for free. But you didn’t, so you’ll have to pay for another one.”

At this point, you’re a little confused. And annoyed. So you tell her you don’t want another meal, just a refund. She tells you that you can’t get a refund. You ask to speak to the manager. The manager comes out, looking politely disinterested. You explain the problem. Your meal didn’t come. You don’t want to pay for a replacement meal, and the server won’t give you a refund. The manager gives you a sympathetic smile and says,

“Yes, that is our policy.”

“What do you mean? I paid for my meal. It got ’lost’, and now you won’t give me another one. You won’t even give me my money back!”

”That’s our policy. We can’t guarantee that you will get your meal. If you had paid for insurance we could have given you a refund. I’m really sorry about the inconvenience.”

He’s looking very bored, and you can tell he could care less about your problem. So you start to get angry.

“So what am I supposed to do? I paid for a service, and I didn’t get it. I want to be compensated! Can’t you give me a gift card or something?”

“I’ve already said I’m sorry. There’s nothing else I can do for you.”

You look at him, a bit dumbfounded. What kind of service is this? He gives you another look, this one indicating that he hopes you are done wasting his time, then goes back to work.

This is a good example of the kind of treatment you will receive if ever the government takes over the restaurant industry. You would certainly never choose that kind of service, but if you want to eat out then you don’t have a choice. Because it is a government run industry, no one will care at all if you are satisfied with it. The employees are paid by the government, using your tax dollars, so the money you spend there has nothing to do with their paychecks, therefore they have no motivation to please you. I think it illustrates why the free market is such a good idea. Profits drive people to provide good service, the potential for repeat business drives every employee to attempt to please the customers. And when mistakes are made, the customers are compensated.

This is also a good example of the exact treatment you currently receive at the post office. Which happens to be a government subsidized monopoly. Have you ever noticed that when you interact with a government employee the prevailing attitude is that they could care less about your problem? The reason, of course, is that they have no motivation to fix your problem or make sure you are satisfied with your service. If your electricity goes out and it takes them a week to fix it, then you can’t just choose from the dozen other electricity companies that are competing for your business. But at least they will give you a discount on your next bill to pay for all the ruined food in for fridge. Oh, wait, no they won’t. If you have an appointment at the DMV and they call that morning to cancel, but you really need your drivers license to get to work, can you just go to one of the other companies that gives out driver’s licenses? Of course, the answer is that you can not because the DMV is the only place that can give you your license. And in a situation like this there is no chance (statistically speaking, the odds are 0) that they will offer you compensation so you can take a bus or a taxi to work because their mistake has left you without transportation.

Now imagine that you had a fridge installed by Sears. You put all the food in, and the next day you find ice cream leaking from the freezer and the mayo smells funny. You call Sears. You can expect they will quickly send someone to fix the fridge, apologize profusely for your trouble, and probably offer to refund the installation fee or give you a gift card to cover the costs of your lost food and time. If they don’t, then you probably won’t call Sears the next time you need a new appliance installed.

Or, you took your car to get repairs done and they told you it would be finished the next morning. You showed up the next morning and they said they were still in the middle of fixing the engine. You couldn’t take your car, and it wouldn’t be done until that evening. They will probably call to get a rental car delivered so you can drive to work. If they just said, “sorry, we estimated wrong,” and didn’t do anything more for you, you simply wouldn’t go back.

Isn’t the free market economy a beautiful system?

Doesn’t it make you feel good knowing that businesses are competing to have you as a customer, and the ones that don’t seem to care you can choose not to return to (in addition to giving it a bad review online and telling all your friends)?

I’ve had multiple unsavory experiences with the post office. Once my father-in-law shipped two boxes of books from Indiana to my husband and me, in Utah. He paid for the shipping, and he paid extra for delivery confirmation. (Delivery confirmation means they would get my signature when they dropped off the package.) A while passed, and one day I came home to find one box of books on my porch. We called a few post offices, the one he had shipped the books from and a couple in our area. No one had any idea where the second box was. A large box of books had just disappeared. That was frustrating; it was probably $200 worth of books. But, we hadn’t paid for insurance so we had no delusions that they might cover the cost of the books they had lost. We did, however, hope that we could get the money back on the shipping. Unfortunately, no, everyone we talked to assured us that there was no chance we would get the shipping costs back. Surely, though, since we had paid extra for delivery confirmation, we could get a refund on that. It would be quite easy to prove they hadn’t gotten delivery confirmation, since they didn’t have the delivery confirmation. However, the post office has a strict policy against refunding money under any circumstances, even circumstances like, ’we specifically paid extra money for a special service, which they did not perform and can’t even claim they performed because if they had they would have proof.’

In another instance my father-in-law paid to have a very important document shipped to him overnight. It is very expensive to have something shipped overnight, but he really needed it right away. The next day, after the mail came, he found a note stuck in his door that said the carrier had tried to drop off the package but no one was home, so he could fill in directions on the note explaining what to do with the package the next day. Apparently there were people home all day, so he’s not sure why the mail carrier had to leave the note in the first place, but he filled the note out and put it back in the door where it had been left. The next day the mail carrier didn’t come to the door. He left an identical note in the mailbox, indicating that he never even tried to deliver the package to the door or retrieve the first note with the directions. The note included instructions for picking the package up from the post office. So, my father-in-law paid for overnight shipping, and three days later had to drive to the post office to pick up the package. Do you think they refunded him the cost for the overnight shipping? (If you’re thinking yes, you need to pay closer attention.)

I have another, very recent, example with a package that was supposed to be shipped to me overnight. The sender paid $17.50 to have an envelope shipped on a Tuesday. Wednesday I found a postcard in my door that said they had attempted delivery. I filled the postcard out, with directions to leave the envelope in my mailbox, and put it in my mailbox on Friday. There was nothing else from the post office until the following Wednesday, a full week after someone paid $17.50 to overnight the package. I got another card in my mailbox saying they had tried to deliver it, had received no response after the first delivery attempt, and that the package would be returned to the sender in a week. I had responded to the first postcard, apparently it just got lost. They didn’t try to deliver it a second time, they just left another postcard in my mailbox. I called the post office and told them I hadn’t received my package after a week, and that I had responded to the first postcard. The employee assured me they would get it to me the next day, Thursday, eight days after it was supposed to arrive.

The next day I went to get my mail, and there was no package. I immediately called the post office. The employee I talked to found the package right where it belonged, with a note telling the carrier to take it out. They just didn’t. She said she would try to find an employee who was doing deliveries that afternoon and would send it out. She also said she would bring it to me herself on her way home if she couldn’t find a carrier. I have to give credit where credit is due; I was genuinely impressed to finally find a post office employee doing what she is paid to do.

So, I waited all afternoon, and after a couple of hours heard a knock on the door. I was lucky both my boys were napping, and was thus able to hear it. I dashed up to my door, just in time to catch the deliverer turned to leave; another postcard fell from the door as I opened it. He turned back to hand me the package. I signed for it and asked if the doorbell hadn’t worked. He said he hadn’t tried the doorbell. I nodded, then asked why. He said he never rings the doorbell, and then told me he had knocked twice. Very considerate. I said doorbells were an effective way of getting attention, and perhaps that’s why my overnight package was 8 days late. He reiterated that he never rang doorbells, then left.

Why?! Why, why why wouldn’t someone making a delivery try the doorbell? UPS rings the doorbell and knocks. It’s pretty efficient; if the doorbell happens to be broken then they have still indicated they are there, and it doesn’t take any longer. My theory is, it’s faster and easier. USPS don’t bother with the doorbell because knocking is less likely to get a response; it is faster to stick a postcard in the door than it is to hand over a package and sign for delivery, so they can get more ’deliveries’ done in less time. Indeed, it would explain why no one in the three story house where my father-in-law lived heard the knock when his overnight package was supposed to be delivered. Pretty clever, if you ask me, and there are literally no repercussions for such underhanded behavior. If I was running a government funded monopoly that refused to give out refunds, I would definitely make it policy for all my deliverers to just knock, ensuring the most efficient use of their time. And if someone complained I would tell them we can’t be responsible for their failure to hear the knock, and that they have the option to drive to the post office and pick up the package themselves. It’s so simple it’s brilliant.

Just one more (I actually have several more, but hopefully these will be enough to prove my point). I used to live in a house with small mail boxes nailed to the side of the house, with lids on the top that opened up. Every day I would get my mail and shut the lid; every day the mail carrier would put my mail in and leave the lid open. When it rained my mail got wet, when it was windy dirt and leaves got into the box. They were small, relatively inconsequential problems, but they bothered me. So I called my post office and asked them to tell my mail carrier to shut the mailbox. The problem continued. I called again a few weeks later. Nothing changed. On the third or fourth call I talked to my mail carrier. He said that he did shut the box; when I said it was always open he told me I must be mistaken. Now imagine if this was a company that depended on customer satisfaction. If I complained about my mail carrier the supervisor would definitely tell my mail carrier to do a better job. If I continued to complain about his service they would probably give me a new mail carrier and move the current one to a different route. If the people on his new route complained about him then he would lose his job. However, the post office is a government run program. The employees do not depend on customer satisfaction to keep themselves in business, so they do not need to respond to complaints. The result is lower quality service and individual employees who will not bother changing their behavior to please you because there is no motivation to put forth the effort.

I’m trying to picture a similar scenario with FedEx, but it’s hard. I’m quite sure that, on occasion, they lose packages and fail to perform services they have been paid for. I’m also sure that when this happens they do their best to make up for it. And if they fail to please the customer, then I’m sure the customer transfers their loyalty to UPS. So why doesn’t everyone use FedEx or UPS? I went to UPS once and asked how much it would cost to mail a letter. They told me it was around $6.00. Right now I can mail a letter for $0.42, so naturally people are going to use USPS. The reason prices are so low is because the government subsidizes the post office. They pour money (your taxes) into keeping it running, and this allows them to keep prices low. The reason it costs UPS $6.00 to deliver one letter is because they have to drive specifically to one location and drop it off; it could be miles away from the next closest delivery, and they have to cover the costs of the time and gas it takes to get there. If UPS was delivering letters to everyhouse in your neighborhood it would cost them less, so prices could go down.

That’s why large businesses are able to get discounts when they use UPS or FedEx, because of the volume of packages they send and receive. We are fortunate to have companies available that are more dependable than USPS. They will never be able to completely replace USPS, despite having higher quality service, because their prices will never be competitive enough due to USPS being subsidized by our tax dollars.

Now I want to give an example of the free market economy at work. I’ve lived in the same town for about seven years, and during the first two years I went to a few different dry cleaners, usually wherever was closest or wherever I had a coupon for. After getting married I wanted my wedding dress cleaned and boxed. I called around to compare prices, and picked one I hadn’t been to before, Veldon’s Dry Cleaner. They told me when my dress would be done; when I came back to pick it up they said it wasn’t done yet, but they would call when they finished. I never heard back; so I checked in a week later. The manager was there, and my dress was done. He rung me up, and I said that I didn’t think I should pay full price because I had to come in twice and I hadn’t been called when the dress was done. Without saying anything, he took 20% off my total.

And that was that.

I haven’t been to another dry cleaner in the last five years. I placed a higher value on my money than the time I took to go in twice, and so I felt fully serviced. I also know that they care about me there, the manager cares that I am satisfied. He didn’t have to give me a discount; he chose to because he valued my business. I choose to give Vedon’s all of my dry cleaning business because I am consistently pleased with their service. And the great thing about the free market is, if I cared more about having my dress back in time (let’s say it was before my wedding, and not after) then I could choose to go somewhere else instead. I chose a dry cleaner I knows cares about making me happy. You can choose a dry cleaner that is cheaper. Someone else can choose a dry cleaner that has never been late. I have that choice, you have that choice. Isn’t the free market economy awesome!

Now, I’m not arguing that a free market society is always perfect, that all the companies are completely focused on giving customers the best service while being completely honest and providing the very best quality. I’ve had my share of bad service at restaurants, stores, auto shops, etc. When I receive bad service I love having the choice not to use the same establishment again. Nor am I arguing that all government run services should be shut down. I definitely believe that the government should have some responsibilities, like providing for the military. My husband thinks that the USPS needs to stay in business because it would be very important to have that thorough infrastructure of delivery working in the event of a major catastrophe.

Some people think it is wrong, but it is still undeniably true that profits motivate people. Money drives people to work harder, improve their service, be kind to customers they don’t like, and minimize mistakes. When you take away the profit motive, quality goes down and employees are generally apathetic to your problems.

I have an example to illustrate this. Once a friend of mine and her husband needed some marital counseling (by which, of course, I mean my husband and me, I’m just too embarrassed to admit that we’ve ever needed any help in our marriage). Someone recommended a very good counselor to us, and we went to him. He charged $80 an hour, which was quite a bit to us as college students, but we thought it was important, so we went. He was very good, used the time very efficiently, and after three visits we all felt like he had helped us improve enough that we didn’t need to come back. Several months passed and we started having similar problems. I had seen a flyer that advertised free marital counseling from grad students at a local college. I wanted to go back to counseling, but $80 seemed like so much, so we decided to try the free counseling. The student was friendly, but quite useless. We went to him 12 times. Every week we repeated our problem and tried to explain to him what we needed, because every week he had completely forgotten what we had told him the previous week. So every week we started over, and by the end of the hour he would say, “Yes, I understand, I see what the problem is, I’ll try to have some advice ready for you next week.” We eventually realized that nothing was getting done, and stopped going. I recognize that one of the counselors had a degree and years of experience, and the other didn’t. However, I think if we had been paying the student $80 an hour he would have remembered what we told him the problem was each previous week. He would have studied his notes from each previous visit. Even if he didn’t know what advice to give us, he would have gone to his professors and asked them what they thought. He would have done research and tried to help us. He would have known that if we didn’t see any improvement by our second visit, there was no way we would spend the money to come back. Money motivates people to give quality service. When someone’s paycheck does not depend on your satisfaction you will not receive the same quality of service.

I use these examples to show why I think that we should not give the government control of any additional industries. The major issue right now is health care. I shudder to think what the state of our health care system would be if it was run with all the care and consideration of the post office or DMV. Right now doctors occasionally make mistakes, but they are trying very hard not to. They are very careful to give correct diagnoses and to treat their patients with respect. When they do make a mistake there are many avenues of recourse. Doctors are quite frequently sued. Once I was misdiagnosed by a doctor at a clinic; when I complained I wasn’t charged for any subsequent visits for that problem and I wasn’t given the same doctor again. Right now when doctors mess up there are consequences. My doctor messed up and he permanently lost me as a patient. Again, the beauty of a free market society is that there are inherent checks and balances. If the government took over health care I can’t imagine why it would be any different than the current government monopolies. All the employees would be receiving a government check. Their jobs wouldn’t depend on your satisfaction, so why would they be motivated to please you? If you are misdiagnosed, damaged or killed, what would your recourse be? They will have no obligation to fix the problem or compensate you for your loss.


About whyimconservative

I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with a Biochemistry degree living in Austin. I love my kids, my husband and my country. I want to explain why I'm conservative.

Posted on June 2, 2011, in Health Care and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your analogy is wrong. It’s more like every time you go into a restaurant to eat, the cost has increased by 25 percent and when you ask why, they tell you it’s because people with no Diner’s Ins or an ability to pay come in and eat and they can’t turn them away. That even though the Government partially reimburses them for “Indigent Meals” they still jack up the cost to you and your Diner’s Ins because they are in business to make money.

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