COMMENTARY | While Obamacare struggles to find its way and critics point at the website’s flaws as a prime reason why the private sector, and not the public sector, should handle the vast bulk of America’s health care, imagine if education in the United States was run like privatized medicine. According to a recent Washington Post expose on abusive pharmaceutical pricing and the existing laws that empower such behavior, taxpayers funding Medicare are at the mercy of profit-seekers who want you to pay $2,000 per dose of a medication that has an identical $50 alternative. Would we accept this sort of scenario if it applied to education?
Picture an America where no public schools exist. A government program, Educare, pays the tuition costs of families in poverty. Large private schools, having no public school competition, have little incentive to reduce cost. They keep tuition costs high to get generous reimbursement checks from Educare.
Laws exist to give these private schools tremendous power: Educare is not allowed to negotiate for better prices on any education services and teachers’ recommendations on services to be received by students are binding. “This student will need five hours of tutoring per week under the Marx-Smith curriculum system,” the teacher would write on his or her “prescription pad,” instantly creating an additional $1,000 charge. “Two hundred bucks per hour of Marx-Smith may seem expensive,” the teacher would say with a smile, “but it took thousands of hours of research-and-development to perfect it.”
Further laws exist to prevent parents from seeking other routes to gain education credentials or pursue admission to higher education. Only diplomas and standardized test scores from existing and licensed private schools are accepted. It is a crime for unlicensed individuals to teach or tutor or for licensed teachers to moonlight. Study materials for the standardized tests necessary to seek college admission are only available, legally, through a licensed teacher. Relatively few teachers offer free or low-cost teaching or tutoring at special teaching clinics, and demand for these services is so intense that waits are long and there is no guarantee of being seen.
If your child is having difficulty learning or retaining a concept you will be referred to a specialist teacher, an individual who typically charges higher rates than a general practitioner teacher.
In the event of a last-minute crisis, such as needing a test retake, intensive tutorials the night before an important test, or a vital teacher recommendation for college admission, you will likely get stuck with an exorbitant bill. To retake a test outside of normal classroom hours? $1,000. Last-ditch tutorials to help your child score highly enough on a standardized test to get into college? $2,000 per session. The letter of recommendation the teacher must write on his or her personal time? $2,500.
Obviously, Americans would hit the roof if this was the state of education. Even the most die-hard conservatives and most ardent proponents of the free market would be vocalizing for reform. “The existing laws keep costs unfairly high and limit competition,” they would gripe. “Schoolteachers and administrators are taking advantage of our intense demand to educate our children to make excessive profits.”
When will we reform health care the way we reformed education?