Single-Payer Health Care Is Dead — For Now. Californians Shouldn’t Let It Come Back

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, has shelved Senate Bill 562. The bill aims to create a government-run, single-payer health care system in California.

But, as Rendon noted, “This action does not mean SB562 is dead.” The California Legislature is still in the first half of a two-year session. The Senate has already approved the bill. Lawmakers in the Assembly could easily revive the proposal.

They’ll face significant pressure to do so, including from the politically powerful California Nurses Association, which has thus far led the charge for SB562. But they must hold fast — and scrap the bill permanently. Single-payer has led to government rationing of care and economy-busting taxes everywhere it’s been tried.

State legislators have long tried to foist single-payer upon Californians. Over the past two decades, lawmakers have introduced nearly 20 single-payer bills.

Many Californians may find the promise of universal, “free” health care enticing — until they find out how disruptive and costly a single-payer system would be.

Under SB562, the 92 percent of Californians covered by an employer-sponsored plan, an individual marketplace policy or a public program like Medicare or Medi-Cal would be forced to give up their insurance.

Most state residents wouldn’t welcome that change. More than eight in 10 are satisfied with their current coverage, according to a recent poll commissioned by the California Association of Heath Underwriters.

Moreover, Californians’ tax bills would explode under the new system. An analysis from the Senate Appropriations Committee put the cost of SB562 at $400 billion — more than double the state budget.

The legislation includes no mention of where that 12-figure sum would come from. The Senate Appropriations Committee suggested a 15 percent payroll tax.

That has given Speaker Rendon pause. In announcing his plans to put the bill on hold, he said that it contained “potentially fatal flaws” and failed to address issues like financing or how care would be delivered. But the flaws inherent in single-payer could also be fatal to California patients.

Consider the single-payer system in my native Canada. The median patient waits 20 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment from a specialist. That’s double the wait time a quarter-century ago.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund ranked Canada dead last out of 11 developed countries for timeliness of medical care. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canada-based think tank, treatment delays cost Canadian patients a total of $1.7 billion a year in lost productivity.

Such long wait times take a toll on Canadians’ health. More than 13 percent of patients report suffering adverse effects while waiting for non-emergency surgery.

Similar horror stories abound in the United Kingdom’s single-payer system. Long wait times, sluggish ambulance responses and other system failures at the National Health Service may have been responsible for as many as 30,000 deaths in 2015.

Instead of trying to improve, the NHS has declared defeat in its battle to reduce wait times. In March, the agency abolished a policy requiring 92 percent of non-emergency surgeries to be performed within 18 weeks.

Similar wait times would no doubt come to California under single-payer. Doctors would surely prefer to leave the state or retire early if the alternative were micromanagement of their medical practices — and reimbursements — by bureaucrats in Sacramento. The best medical school graduates, meanwhile, would almost certainly opt not to work in California under the heavy hand of the state government.

Single-payer would endanger Californians’ health and cripple taxpayers. It’s time for it to die — once and for all.

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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