Single-payer health care’s deadly waitlists

Millions of people have canceled doctor’s appointments and postponed elective surgeries over the past 18 months. But now that the pandemic has largely subsided, many patients feel it’s once again safe to seek care.

A Gallup poll conducted in May found that nearly 17% of Americans had gone to a hospital, doctor’s office, or treatment center in the previous 24 hours, up from just 6% the year before.

Whether patients actually receive the care they’re seeking, though, depends entirely on where they live.

Here in the United States, patients today have little problem scheduling prompt doctor’s appointments. But in other countries with government-run health systems, patients are encountering extreme delays.

In the United Kingdom, wait lists for care are longer than ever. More than 5.3 million patients were waiting to start treatment as of May, according to data from the country’s National Health Service — the highest number since record-keeping began 14 years ago. The new U.K. health secretary just announced that wait lists could reach up to 13 million in the coming months.

It’s not just low-risk, healthy individuals waiting for routine care. One hospital trust reported that it had 595 “priority patients” — those at risk of losing a limb or dying — waiting for 12 weeks or more.

In Northern Ireland, the wait for a urology appointment can be up to seven years. The wait to see an orthopedist or general surgeon is more than five years.

In the United States, by contrast, the average wait for a first-time patient to see a urologist is less than three weeks. The average wait to see an orthopedic surgeon in 15 major U.S. metropolitan areas examined by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, is about two weeks.

Fixing Britain’s wait time crisis will be incredibly expensive — up to $55 billion over four years.

The United Kingdom isn’t the only place suffering under a government-run healthcare system. Over 1.2 million Canadians waited for essential treatment last year. This delayed medical care cost the country nearly $2.8 billion in lost wages and productivity, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.

Thousands of people die every year because of these delays. More than 3,800 patients died waiting for surgery between 2018 and 2019 in Canada. Across the Atlantic, almost 5,500 patients died waiting for a hospital bed from 2016 to 2019 in the United Kingdom.

In spite of such grim outcomes, many lawmakers in the United States are still agitating for a single-payer system. Earlier this spring, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, reintroduced legislation that would outlaw private insurance and put everyone in a government-run health plan within two years. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Democrat-controlled California and New York also considered legislation that would implement a statewide single-payer system.

As Americans return to their doctors, Britons will continue to wait — in some cases, for years. Bureaucracy will rob them of the opportunity to receive early cancer diagnoses, undergo transformative surgeries, or begin life-saving treatments.

The United States has just started to emerge from the pandemic, and people are eager to address health concerns that may have gone neglected. Americans should thank their lucky stars that we don’t live in a single-payer system that forces patients to wait years for care.

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. Read Sally Pipes’ Reports — More Here

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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