Single Payer Is Fool’s Gold For California

While the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare may have failed, Democrats in California and in D.C. are just getting started in their effort to eliminate the health law.

Unfortunately, they’re angling to replace ObamaCare with something even worse.

In California, State Senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins introduced the details of the “The Healthy California Act,” on March 30 which would create a “single-payer health care coverage program and a health care cost control system.” And they’re considering using the flexibility afforded by ObamaCare’s “state innovation waivers” to enact this vision.

As Sen. Lara put it, “now more than ever is the time to talk about universal health care.”

The opposite is true. Since ObamaCare became law seven years ago, the case for single-payer has only grown less convincing.

Consider the two states that have already tried and failed to launch single-payer systems.

Vermont’s attempt imploded in 2014 following news that it would cost $4.3 billion a year — nearly as much as the state’s entire budget. Gov. Peter Shumlin concluded that the taxes and regulations required to fund the program — an 11.5% payroll tax on business and a tax of up to 9.5% on individuals — “might hurt our economy.” No kidding.

Colorado voters had a chance to adopt a single-payer system with a ballot initiative last November. The reform, known as Amendment 69, would have imposed a 10% payroll tax, and would have nearly doubled the state’s $27 billion budget.

It would have also eliminated most private coverage throughout Colorado. Eighty percent of voters rejected the proposal. Even the state’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, opposed the initiative.

Outrageous taxes are perhaps the least troubling consequence of single-payer care. Indeed, had residents of Colorado or Vermont gone through with their reforms, they would have soon faced long delays for substandard care.

The single-payer system I grew up under in Canada, also known as Medicare, condemns sick patients to delays that have grown ever-longer over the past few decades. Last year, Canadians waited an average of five months for medically necessary specialist treatments after receiving a referral from a general practitioner, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.

That’s almost two weeks longer than the previous year’s wait times from seeing a primary-care doctor to getting treated by a specialist — and more than twice the average wait-time in 1993.

Canadians seeking an MRI can expect to wait 11 weeks, while those in need of neurosurgery face an average wait of more than 11 months.

The evidence from the United Kingdom’s single-payer system — the National Health Service — is even less encouraging. Unlike in Canada, the U.K. allows patients to purchase private coverage outside of the government-run system. But the majority of Brits who rely on NHS hospitals face what the British Red Cross recently described as a “humanitarian crisis.”

That’s not an exaggeration. Chronic overcrowding forced 20 hospitals to issue “black alerts” earlier this year, meaning that they couldn’t guarantee life-saving emergency care. Last year, more than 2 million Britons waited more than four hours for emergency-room care.

Here in the United States, our own version of a single-payer system — the Veterans Health Administration — offers another cautionary tale.

Predictably, patients stuck in the system face chronic shortages of and delays in care. Just last year, a federal report found that 215 veterans died while awaiting potentially life-saving care at a VA facility in Phoenix.

This discovery came two years after a scandal in which VA employees were caught covering up evidence of excessive wait times at the same Phoenix hospital. After a national outcry — and a high-profile federal reform effort — veterans still must withstand potentially fatal delays when seeking care.

Nevertheless, California lawmakers like Lara and Atkins remain captivated by the idea of a government-run health care. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is also under the spell of single-payer, and has promised to introduce national “Medicare for All” legislation soon.

But as Canada’s Medicare system, the NHS, and the VA make clear, single-payer is the only approach to health reform that has performed worse than ObamaCare these last seven years.

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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