Is Obamacare paving the way for single-payer system?

Suffering from illness or injury? Good thing you’re not British.

U.K. police recently investigated the deaths of 300 patients at one hospital.

The suspected cause? Neglect. No wonder — average waiting times for accident and emergency patients have hit a nine-year high.

That could never happen in America, right? On the contrary. Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges and expansion of Medicaid — the government health care program for the poor — represent the building blocks of a British-style, government-run health care system in this country. If that system metastasizes, rationed care and subpar health outcomes will follow.

Less than four in 10 Americans say they support “single-payer” health care.

But the idea remains a hobbyhorse for many Democrats. A single-payer bill has been introduced in Congress every year since 2003. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) recently signed a single-payer bill into law. And former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D) is pushing for a citywide single-payer system as part of his campaign for New York City mayor.

Initiatives like these could lead to a piecemeal government takeover of the health care system.

Consider Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges, which are scheduled to open for enrollment on Oct. 1. Each was intended to be a state-run marketplace offering affordable coverage options.

The exchanges haven’t unfolded as planned. Just 17 states are operating their own exchanges. Seven states asked for federal help running their exchanges — and 27 left the task to the feds altogether.

So the federal government will soon effectively control the individual and small-group insurance markets in more than half the states.

Those markets won’t function properly if people don’t enroll. That outcome is looking increasingly likely.

The exchanges are designed to take premiums from the young and healthy, who typically consume less care, to subsidize coverage for the aged. The individual mandate was designed to force these young folks to participate.

But if they ignore the mandate, the exchanges will crumble.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than a third of those between the ages of 26 and 30 don’t believe that insurance is worth the money it costs.

Without young folks’ premiums to cover costs for older people, the insurance prices will skyrocket. The federal government may feel compelled to reduce premiums — or simply insure everyone directly.

Obamacare will already do so for the poor, by expanding Medicaid. Over the next decade, some 13 million Americans are expected to enroll in the program.

But Medicaid doesn’t guarantee access to care — a third of doctors won’t accept new Medicaid patients. That’s because the program underpays health care providers — remitting just 92 cents per dollar in care beneficiaries consume. Hospitals reported $36.5 billion in underpayments from Medicaid in 2009.

Add the 13 million new Medicaid enrollees to the nearly 63 million people already enrolled and the 50 million people on Medicare, and more than 40 percent of the country will be on publicly financed insurance.

If those beneficiaries can’t secure care, the feds may step in and order providers to treat them.

That should scare Americans. Single-payer systems elsewhere illustrate why.

Cancer patients in Britain wait up to nine years for the country’s rationing body to green light the use of medicines that have already passed clinical trials. Political and financial concerns often take precedence over patient well-being.

Even as wait times reach record highs, Britain’s National Health Service is implementing 20 billion pounds’ worth of “efficiency savings.” Seven in 10 providers believe the cuts will increase wait times and make it harder for patients to get care.

Patients in Canada’s single-payer system don’t have it much better. Our neighbor ranks 13th out of 17 developed countries for cancer survival — just one spot above the United Kingdom.

In Sweden, 55 percent of patients wait more than four weeks for a specialist appointment. That’s more than double the share of patients who do so in the United States.

Obamacare purports to improve upon America’s health-insurance infrastructure. But if it fails to expand access to care or hold down costs, it could serve as the means by which the federal government takes complete control of the health care marketplace. That’s an outcome Americans should resist.

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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