I was on a radio show recently with somebody who believes that our health is too important to be trusted to doctors in private practice and insurance companies-he’d prefer to entrust his body to a government bureaucrat. He raised the issue that firefighters are government employees and we let them make quick decisions about saving our houses.

 I wish I had thought fast enough to say I’d rather trust my health decisions to a firefighter rather than a government bureaucrat. Cuban healthcare decisions, of course, are always in the loving hands of the state. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal today has an informative piece inspired by a study of Cuba’s system by Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, that appears in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Stephens quotes Ms. Garrett praises Cuba for “offering ‘an inspiring, standard-setting vision of government responsibility for the health of its people.’Cuba’s (reported) success in reducing the incidence of child mortality and tropical diseases, she adds, is ‘laudable.'”

Stephens notes:

Just one problem: The system is in an advanced state of collapse. It is bankrupting the state and driving doctors out of the medical field and the country. Its ostensibly egalitarian nature disguises a radically inegalitarian reality, with a tiny number of well-appointed clinics catering to paying medical tourists and senior Party apparatchiks while most Cubans take their chances in filthy, under-resourced hospitals.

Consider the facts as laid out by Ms. Garrett. There are 73,000 physicians licensed to practice in Cuba. This allows Cuba to boast of having the best doctor-patient ratio in the world, with one doctor for every 170 people, as opposed to one for every 390 in the United States.

Yet reality belies the statistics. Slightly more than half of all Cuban physicians work overseas; taxed by the Cuban state at a 66% rate, many of them wind up defecting. Doctors who remain in the country earn about $25 a month. As a result, Ms. Garrett writes, they often take “jobs as taxi drivers or in hotels,” where they can make better money. As for the quality of the doctors, she notes that very few of those who manage to reach the U.S. can gain accreditation here, partly because of the language barrier, partly because of the “stark differences” in medical training. Typically, they wind up working as nurses.

Like the oil rigs in the Gulf, doctors are mobile.

We just saw a company announce that they are taking a rig from the Gulf of Mexico to Egyptian waters because of government interference.

Just wait until the government gets through with our once-fine medical system.