Single-Payer Health Care Won’t Die, Despite Failures – Pacific Research Institute

Single-Payer Health Care Won’t Die, Despite Failures

The dream of single-payer health care in America just won’t die.

Vermont is trying to implement a single-payer system by itself. This month, Green Mountain State officials will actually dictate how much hospitals can raise spending in the coming year. At the national level, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., has introduced legislation that would allow states to use federal funding to implement their own single-payer programs.

Some health policy wonks have expressed their sympathies for such a system.

While reflecting on the paean to Britain’s single-payer system that was part of the Opening Ceremonies at the London Olympics, Princeton economics professor Uwe Reinhardt noted that Americans “have long reserved for our veterans the purest form of socialized medicine, the vast health system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Perhaps that’s a system that all Americans would want? Not likely.

Single-payer systems—without fail—saddle patients with long wait times for vital treatments, low-quality care, and reduced access to basic medical services.

A new report from Canada’s Fraser Institute makes that even clearer.

Researchers found that the median wait time from seeing a specialist to getting treatment is now 9.5 weeks, up from 9.3 weeks in 2010. By the end of 2011, over 941,000 of my former countrymen were waiting for medical treatment.

Over the last two decades, wait times for specialists have more than doubled.

Fraser also surveyed physicians operating in 12 specialties across 10 provinces and found that the average time between a referral from a general practitioner and the actual administration of an elective procedure is now 19 weeks — the longest ever recorded.

“Physicians themselves believe that Canadians wait nearly three weeks longer than what they consider is clinically ‘reasonable’ for elective treatment,” researchers said.

Some Canadians have decided that enough is enough — and have traveled to the United States to get treatment. More than 46,000 did so last year, according to Fraser.

Canada’s healthcare system does not stand alone as a government-run failure.

Britain’s Royal National Institute of Blind People just released data showing that over half of the local trusts that make up the National Health Service have created “very restrictive” standards for cataract operations.

Tougher treatment criteria have led to longer wait times for people suffering from cataracts. These cloudy patches on the lens of the eye can cause blindness if left untreated.

Prof. Harminder Dua, president of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, has called these tougher standards “arbitrary” and “a response to financial pressures, not clinical needs.”

Amazingly, the British government acknowledges it deprives its subjects of the best treatment. According to the government’s National Radiotherapy Implementation Group, one-third of cancer patients are not offered the latest in cancer treatment technology, which uses precision-targeted radiation to kill cancer cells.

These brutal realities should prompt pause from Americans who seem to believe that health care is better beyond U.S. borders. Unfortunately, Obamacare is pushing the U.S. to emulate the government systems common abroad.

Work published in Health Affairs puts the government health care tab at an astonishing $4.6 trillion at the end of this decade. That’s about a fifth of the American economy. Today, that number is $2.6 trillion — or almost 18% of GDP.

By 2020, the government will spend one of every two health care dollars in this country.

And it’s not just the outsized share of spending that the government is set to take on. Obamacare will dictate how the rest of the health care market is to function — controlling what it doesn’t directly pay for.

Look to Obamacare’s model — the 2006 Massachusetts health reform plan — for a preview of how. On Aug. 6, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that would forcibly limit the growth of health spending to the rate of economic growth in the Bay State through 2017.

Between 2018 and 2023, health spending growth would be capped at a rate 0.5 percentage points less than economic growth. The measure’s backers project savings of $200 billion over 15 years.

Insurers and large hospitals in Massachusetts will also have to pay $225 million in surcharges over four years, starting in 2013. To enforce these targets, the new law establishes a commission that can impose $500,000 fines on organizations that don’t appear to be playing ball.

Price controls like these will yield the same result they have in foreign single-payer systems — a reduction in the availability of care.

Government does not yet control health care entirely in the U.S. But Obamacare hastens that process — apparently ignorant of the failure of government-run systems elsewhere.

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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