Last August, Chris Walcroft, a 50-year old Canadian father of two, was told that he would be dead within a year without dialysis, according to reporting from CTV News. His kidneys were failing. His doctor scheduled a surgery for mid-March to implant a fistula, which is necessary for dialysis. Modern medical technology would afford Walcroft a chance to see his kids graduate from high school.
Then the pandemic came. The Canadian government mandated across-the-board delays of “elective” surgeries to shore up personnel and resources for Covid-19 patients. Walcroft’s kidney surgery qualified as “elective” and was cancelled.
In April, he died of kidney failure. His family suffered a devastating, and entirely preventable, catastrophe.
This is a glimpse into the ugly reality of single-payer health care. The pandemic has made Canada’s waits for necessary care even worse. Patients are now staring down an epic backlog that could take years to dig out of.
Walcroft’s surgery was one of the 100,000 procedures delayed or cancelled by Canadian health authorities in response to Covid-19. Some patients have died because of these delays. Christine Elliot, the Health Minister of Ontario, has admitted that three dozen people in her province have died because of cancelled heart surgeries.
Leeann Galloway, a 48-year-old Nova Scotian, was scheduled to receive a double lung transplant before the government put her procedure on indefinite hold. She’s been forced to resort to GoFundMe to try to secure the money her family needs for living expenses in Toronto, where she’s slated to have the procedure done, and the care the single-payer system doesn’t cover. “It’s been a stressful, long seven months,” Galloway told CTV News. “We’re hoping it ends soon.”
Across the Atlantic, Britain’s National Health Service has also saddled millions of patients with deadly delays.
Pre-Covid-19, 4 million British patients were stuck waiting for care. The cascade of cancellations has doubled that figure; now, one in eight Britons are in a government queue.
Emma Shearer is a 36-year-old British citizen suffering from endometriosis, a hormonal disorder that frequently debilitates her with pelvic pain. After waiting three months for a referral from the NHS, per reporting from the New York Times NYT -0.6%, Shearer decided she couldn’t afford to wait any longer—and opted to pay out of pocket for a screening on the private market.
She’s still waiting to get scheduled for surgery. “The coronavirus is leaving so many of us with no choice but to neglect our health,” she told the Times. “It’s terrifying and it’s not going to end well.”
The Daily Mail relayed the story of one 78-year-old British grandmother with breast cancer who was denied surgery at a local clinic because of Covid-19 restrictions, even though the hospital was empty. Lack of proper treatment and diagnosis is expected to result in an extra 50,000 cancer deaths in Britain.
And the waits are only going to grow. Every month, some 400,000 procedures are getting backlogged in the NHS. Health authorities project it will take four years to normalize waiting times. The NHS’s waiting list is expected to top 10 million by the end of the year.
Democrats are planning to bring this pain to the United States. Joe Biden may have the veneer of a moderate alternative, but his health plan lays the groundwork for single-payer. His newly named running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris co-sponsored Sen. Bernie Sanders’s legislative bids for Medicare for All in both 2017 and 2019.
cThe Biden camp wants to install a public option to compete with private insurance. This wouldn’t be a fair fight—the government can offer artificially low premiums by, among other things, underpaying healthcare providers. Right now, Medicare reimburses hospitals just 87 cents on the dollar. To help make up for those underpayments, hospitals charge private insurers 241% of Medicare’s rates, on average.
Private insurers wouldn’t be able to match Medicare’s cost structure. They’d steadily go out of business. One estimate predicts 40 million people would sign up for the public option in the first year alone.
This is the backdoor imposition of single-payer—the system that kept Chris Walcroft in limbo for months. On April 15, some eight months after his diagnosis of kidney failure, he was scheduled to finally see a specialist. He never made it to that appointment; he died that day. As his wife said to CTV News, “I’m absolutely sure I’m not the only one that this has happened to and I’m not the only one that this is going to happen to. It’s not fair.”
Democrats are planning to import such tragedies to America. The pandemic has revealed the rotten core of single-payer.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All, (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.