Last week, Gavin Newsom’s Healthy California for All Commission convened for the first time. The commission has been tasked with figuring out how to install a single-payer healthcare system statewide.
The commission’s 13 voting and five non-voting members represent a who’s-who of big-government academics, union leaders, and public health officials. If they approach their job with any measure of objectivity, they’ll find what other blue-state officials who have examined single-payer have found: there’s no way to make the numbers work.
No state — not even one as large and wealthy as California — can afford to pay for the care of every one of its residents, both legal and illegal. Bringing single-payer to the Golden State would cripple our economy and wallop taxpayers.
Newsom specifically requested that his commissioners design a “unified financing system” for a future government-run health plan. The commission will release its initial findings this July, with final recommendations to the legislature coming in February of next year.
The commission has an impossible task. The price tag for single-payer is simply too high.
Consider California’s last flirtation with a single, government-run healthcare system – Senate Bill 562, which passed the state Senate in 2017. The Democratic-controlled State Assembly never even scheduled a vote on the measure, which lacked any revenue-raising mechanisms despite calling for roughly $400 billion in annual spending — more than double the state budget that year.
As Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said, “This bill wasn’t even half-baked. It wasn’t even a bill. It was an incomplete list of principles.”
California’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislature was hardly the first group of progressives to balk at single-payer’s price tag.
Six years ago, Vermont — Bernie Sanders’s home state — got cold feet. Implementing single-payer in the Green Mountain State would have required a new 9.5-percent state income tax and a new 11.5-percent payroll tax on employers.
Vermont’s then-governor, Peter Shumlin, abandoned the plan after deciding that the “potential economic disruption and risks would be too great to small business, working families, and the state’s economy.” He called it “the greatest disappointment of my political life.”
In 2016, voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 69, a ballot measure that would have created a statewide single-payer system, by a 79-21 margin. Even the state’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, urged his fellow citizens to reject the initiative. Here, too, cost was the main sticking point. The plan would have imposed a new 10 percent payroll tax on state residents and roughly doubled the state budget.
Not only is single-payer costly — it results in poor-quality care.
Consider Canada’s government-run system, which outlaws private coverage for anything deemed medically necessary, just as Sanders’s brand of Medicare for All would. The median wait for Canadians seeking specialist treatment following referral from a general practitioner exceeded 20 weeks last year. That’s up from just 9.3 weeks in 1993.
Patients in the United Kingdom’s government-run National Health Service have it just as bad. In December, wait times at emergency rooms throughout Britain were the longest on record, with one in five patients waiting more than four hours to be seen. Over 2,000 patients that month waited more than 12 hours for a hospital bed.
The waits imposed by government-run health systems often have tragic and irreversible consequences. A new report from a British watchdog group estimates that 22 people a month endure severe or permanent sight loss because of long wait times for eye doctors.
One-quarter of British cancer patients experience avoidable delays in diagnosis, according to Cancer Research UK, a charity. Long waits for tests were responsible for one-fourth of those avoidable delays. It’s no wonder survival rates for cancers of the breast, colon, lung, and prostate are lower in the United Kingdom than in the United States.
Yet Gov. Newsom and his allies remain intent on bringing socialized medicine to the Golden State. If his handpicked commissioners conduct a sober review of the facts, they’ll recommend that the governor stop his single-payer crusade.
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.