For Californians, Rejecting Single-Payer Means Transcending Party Politics

Last month, Republican businessman John Cox comfortably coasted to a second-place finish in California’s gubernatorial primary. But his emergence as the runner-up to Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was no sure thing.

California’s unique open primary rules allow the two candidates with the most votes to advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Republicans make up just 25% of the electorate, so it was quite plausible that deep-blue California might choose two Democrats to battle it out in November.

But the Republican Cox finished just seven points behind the Democrat Newsom. That says a lot about one issue in particular — single-payer health care. Newsom has made the policy a centerpiece of his campaign. Cox, on the other hand, is a vocal critic of socialized medicine.

The closer-than-expected race offers evidence that Californians aren’t unanimously behind the Democratic Party’s plan for a government takeover of the state’s health care system. And they shouldn’t be. Single-payer is a disastrously expensive policy that has led to treatment delays, shortages, higher taxes, and rationing every place it’s been tried.

Newsom has endorsed SB 562, a single-payer bill that passed the State Senate in June of last year. The bill would replace all private health coverage in the Golden State with a single, government-run plan covering all California residents, including those residing in the state illegally. The proposal stalled in the State Assembly when Speaker Anthony Rendon — a Democrat — declared it “woefully incomplete.”

The bill did not provide any details on how it would raise the $400 billion needed to fund single-payer. That figure is double the state’s current budget.

Half of the $400 billion was to be diverted from federal funding for existing programs like Medicare and Medi-Cal. But that would require federal consent — an unlikely scenario with President Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress. Californians would have to cover the remaining $200 billion through new taxes.

State senators suggested one possible source of funding — a new 15% tax. So much for “free” health care.

The cost of statewide single-payer systems is insurmountable. Even Vermont — home to single-payer’s biggest champion, Sen. Bernie Sanders — rejected a statewide single-payer plan back in 2014. The system would have required an 11.5% percent payroll tax on businesses and a 9.5% income tax. Then-Governor Peter Shumlin, who originally supported single-payer, ultimately abandoned the plan after admitting that such taxes would cripple the state’s economy.

Money isn’t the only reason to reject single-payer. The system is also disastrous for patients. When health services are “free,” patients have no reason to limit their consumption. But even an entity the size of the government has limited resources to pay for care. So shortages and long wait times are inevitable.

The single-payer system in my native Canada, for instance, forces patients to wait a median of more than 21 weeks to receive treatment from specialists after they obtain referrals from general practitioners. In some provinces, the wait is much longer. In 2017, the median wait time in New Brunswick was just shy of 42 weeks.

The U.K.’s Bad Example

The situation is just as bleak for patients in the United Kingdom’s government-run health care system, the National Health Service. In the last year, more than 2,600 patients waited at least 12 months for elective treatment. Resources are so poorly managed that the agency was forced to cancel tens of thousands of surgeries — including urgent procedures — last winter.

Newsom has decided to ignore these realities on the campaign trail. As he put it, “There’s no reason to wait around on universal health care and single-payer in California.”

Faced with such willful obliviousness, it’s no surprise that so many voters in solidly blue California cast their vote for a foe of government-run health care. As Cox said on the campaign trail, SB 562 would put in place “a socialist-styled health care delivery system that has failed in other countries and states, as governments cannot afford to fund it properly, and health care gets rationed.”

When they enter the voting booth this November, Californians will be deciding not only on a gubernatorial candidate but on whether to authorize a government takeover of their health care system that will be hazardous to their health.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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