Several contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are staking their candidacies on a government takeover of the U.S. health care system, whereby the feds become the lone payer, or “single-payer” for health care services.
Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker are all co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Bernie Sanders that would expand Medicare to cover all Americans. Eleven other senators who don’t have their eyes on the White House — at least not yet — have endorsed Sanders’ bid for single-payer health care. More than 120 Democrats in the House have sponsored a similar plan.
Before those on Team Blue bet on government-run health care as their electoral trump card, they might want to look across the Atlantic. New data show that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is a scourge, not a cure for what ails us.
A recent report from the King’s Fund, a leading British think tank, finds that the National Health Service has fewer doctors, nurses and beds per capita than almost any nation in the Western world. Other countries near the bottom of this list include Canada, Denmark, and Sweden — all of which have government-run health care systems. Canada actually bans private coverage of any health care service that the public system pays for.
This is no coincidence. These government-dominated systems keep costs down by setting strict spending caps. These limited budgets inevitably force doctors, hospital administrators and government bureaucrats to ration care.
Patients must deal with life-threatening shortages of care and delays for treatment. In early 2017, the delays at NHS facilities were so bad that the British Red Cross warned of a “humanitarian crisis.”
Since then, conditions have deteriorated further. During this past winter’s flu season, NHS health facilities forced thousands of patients to wait in ambulances for an hour or more — there weren’t enough available beds to admit them to hospitals.
Emergency patients aren’t the only ones who had to wait for treatment. In the first three months of 2018, the NHS canceled more than 25,000 operations, according to a new analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons. That’s the highest figure in nearly a quarter-century.
This month, the London Telegraph reported that some cancer patients were waiting as much as 18 months for treatments. Across 88 NHS organizational units called trusts, the longest wait for cancer care was 213 days — approximately seven months.
Health Care Rationing
Often, the most vulnerable patients bear the brunt of the rationing. The NHS typically provides just one-third of the therapy recommended for stroke victims, condemning many patients to avoidable lifelong disabilities.
Defenders of the NHS blame such embarrassments on insufficient government funding. But chronic mismanagement of resources is the more likely culprit.
Consider a new report that shows the NHS spends nearly 1.5 billion pounds — around $2 billion — a year on expensive temporary nursing staff and yet still struggles to meet the demand for care. For that same amount, the government could have hired 66,000 full-time nurses — more than enough to close the current nursing shortfall of 40,000.
Many NHS horror stories stem from plain-old administrative incompetence.
For instance, due to a technological glitch dating back to 2009, hundreds of thousands of women weren’t invited to undergo critical screenings for breast cancer.
That error, which only recently came to light, could have shortened the lives of as many as 270 patients, according to Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
The NHS is hardly unique among government-run systems in subjecting patients to substandard care. In my native Canada, the median wait time last year for treatment from a specialist after referral from a general practitioner was 21.2 weeks, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. That’s the longest wait on record — and double the median wait of 25 years ago.
Yet leaders on America’s political left still champion single-payer. Sen. Sanders has called it an
“international embarrassment” that the United States is “the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all its people.”
On the contrary, the rationing, administrative inefficiency and incompetence and needless patient suffering that plague the National Health Service are embarrassments to Great Britain. Single-payer is a disease that ought to stay quarantined outside U.S. borders.