The novel coronavirus has emerged as the latest justification for “Medicare for all.” This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “When I talk about healthcare being a human right … the coronavirus crisis makes that abundantly clear as to why it should be.” And last week, left-wing wunderkind Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said of the COVID-19 outbreak, “It absolutely is an argument for ‘Medicare for all.’”
But countries with socialized medicine are ill-prepared for outbreaks — and have responded poorly when they’ve been hit by them.
Take Canada. Patients wait hours to be admitted to the hospital even when there’s not an outbreak raging. A January 2019 report commissioned by the government of Ontario found that patients in the emergency department were waiting 16 hours, on average, for an inpatient hospital bed.
As a result, when disaster strikes, Canada’s healthcare system becomes overwhelmed almost immediately. During the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, 375 people came down with the virus. Forty-four died. Nearly three-quarters of those who contracted the virus did so in a hospital setting. “Our public health and emergency infrastructures were in a sorry state of decay,” concluded the final report from the government of Ontario’s SARS Commission.
Or look at the United Kingdom, whose National Health Service was over capacity before the coronavirus hit. Last year, 4.6 million people were on waiting lists for hospital care — the highest number ever. More than 15% of them had been on those lists for more than 18 weeks. Despite a population growth of 6% and an elderly population growth of 19%, the number of available hospital beds fell 10% between 2010 and 2018.
It’s no wonder that just eight of the 1,600 doctors surveyed by Doctors’ Association UK said they felt the NHS was well prepared for the coronavirus.
Long waits and insufficient healthcare resources are endemic to single-payer. Neither is conducive to fighting an outbreak such as the novel coronavirus.
Sally C. Pipes is the president, CEO, and 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.