Rationing! That very word strikes fear into the heart of many Americans. During the course of the debate over healthcare reform, many generally conservative Americans have complained that a single-payer healthcare plan would entail "rationing," wherein medical procedures and resources would be withheld from people on the basis of cost or overwhelming demand. This claim is baseless and deserves to be stricken from the discourse.
Of course, rationing already occurs: ask any of the 40 million or so uninsured Americans whether cost ever prevents them from getting the care they need. But more importantly, this objection has no basis whatsoever in actual economics. As the first sentence in the free-and-open source economics textbook Introduction to Economic Analysis by CalTech economics professor R. Preston McAfee – and probably every Intro Econ textbook in the world – begins, Economics studies the allocation of scarce resources among people – examining what goods and services wind up in the hands of which people.
Thus, there must be some sort of "rationing" (read: "allocation")through which it is decided who receives the "last" MRI when there are multiple people in line. (For those of you without any background in economics and who are too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia, almost every resource is scarce, meaning that there are fewer units of that resource than there are people who want them. Thus, there are fewer available MRI machines and technicians than we'd need to give MRIs to everyone whenever a doctor would like to order one.) Right now, that allocation takes place through money. Prices for MRIs are set so that most people don't get unnecessary MRIs and, unfortunately, so that uninsured people don't get many necessary MRIs.
Someone who hasn't thought too much about the issue might suggest allocating medical resources based on some perception of social worth, so that schoolteachers and sweet old grandmothers are first in line, ahead of ambulance-chasing lawyers and thieving bankers. Of course, this suggestion is entirely unworkable, because it would require some sort of Soviet-style "Worker's Committee" to determine who is valuable to the proletariat and to banish the worthless lawyers and bankers to a healthcare-less gulag. Besides, without going to far off-track into economic theory (we'll save that for later) wages are a rough indicator of social worth, because various pursuits (e.g. education, law and medicine) are paid at the value at which society values them (lowly, highly and highly, respectivey), even if we like to pretend otherwise. If the social value of teachers was truly as high as we claim, teachers would be paid far higher wages.
Note: I don't support single-payer healthcare and I'm extremely wary of a public option. However, I strongly oppose illogic in all its forms and on all sides. Hence this article.