Health care took center stage when 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls debated in Detroit this week. Only a few candidates pledged to implement “Medicare-for-all.” The rest proposed a variety of plans aimed at achieving universal coverage, which they claimed are more “moderate” alternatives.
Don’t believe it. Every Democratic candidate’s plan will result in socialized medicine – a government takeover of the American health care system. And if the United States opts for this system of single-payer health care, there’s no going back.
The strongest defense of “Medicare-for-all” came from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the pied piper of single-payer. Sanders proudly proclaimed he “wrote the damn bill” that would force everyone into a new government-run insurance plan in just four years.
Sanders’ plan is sweeping. It promises comprehensive health care for every American, free of charge. It would outlaw private insurance. And it would cost $32 trillion to $40 trillion over its first decade.
During the debate he participated in this week, Sanders pointed to our neighbor to the north to defend his plan. “When you end up in a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all,” he said.
He’s right that “Medicare-for-all” would make our health care system more like Canada’s. But that’s a bad thing.
For one, Canadian patients have trouble gaining access to care. Canada simply doesn’t have the resources or capacity to meet the demand for treatment. As a result, Canadian patients have to get in line.
Last year Canadians waited a median of just under 20 weeks for specialist care following referral by a general practitioner. All told, nearly 3 percent of the Canadian population was waiting for care in 2018.
Apply that rate to the United States and more than 9.8 million Americans would be waiting for care.
Canada’s single-payer health care system is so bad that some patients and doctors are suing to get out of it.
Dr. Brian Day – an orthopedic surgeon from British Columbia – has spent the past decade leading a lawsuit that aims to overturn his province’s effective ban on private care. The provincial government has attempted to outspend and outlast Day, in hopes he’ll give up his fight.
Day’s legal battle should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks we can easily extricate ourselves from single-payer once we greenlight a government takeover of the health care system.
“Medicare-for-all” supporters are also wrong about what it would cost. They typically acknowledge that it would raise taxes, but downplay the severity. On the second night of the most recent debates, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed that the premiums and deductibles American patients currently face are “worse than any tax” that “Medicare-for-all” could bring.
As former Vice President Joe Biden put it, that’s “a bunch of malarkey.” How right Biden is.
Covering the cost of “Medicare-for-all” would necessitate a slew of new taxes. Sanders has floated a 4 percent tax on every American household and a 7.5 percent payroll tax for all employers, to name just two examples, as potential funding mechanisms.
This isn’t surprising. In Canada, the average family of four pays around $13,000 a year in taxes to fund the health care system. In the United Kingdom, that tax burden is over $6,000.
Biden deserves some credit for dispelling the myth of free health care. But his plan isn’t much better. He is one of many candidates to claim he’ll preserve private insurance by creating a “public option” to compete against private plans.
Private plans can’t really “compete” with a public option. Since the government doesn’t need to worry about costs, it can set artificially low premiums. Additionally, most public option proposals would reimburse doctors and hospitals at Medicare’s rates, which are about 40 percent less than what private insurers pay.
As more people shift onto government plans, providers would charge private insurers more to make up the difference. Insurers would respond by raising premiums, pushing even more people onto public option plans. One study found that 119 million people would lose their private insurance after just one year of a public option.
Eventually, everyone would be enrolled in a government plan – just like with “Medicare-for-all.”
This week the Democrats unwittingly revealed yet again that they’re united behind socialized medicine. They just disagree about how fast to foist it on the American people.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care” (Encounter 2018). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.