Single-Payer Progressives Lie Their Way to Victory

November’s midterm elections are just around the corner. This fall, Democratic congressional candidates are betting the farm — or shall we say the House — on government-run health care.

The crop of Democrats eyeing the presidency in 2020, meanwhile, is similarly united behind a government takeover of the U.S. healthcare system.

If voters reward the party’s leftward lurch, they’ll regret it immensely. The single-payer system that progressives dream of would be a nightmare for taxpayers and patients alike.

To be sure, progressives’ strategy has had some success thus far. In June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a member of the Democratic Socialists of America — stunned pundits by defeating 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th district. The 28-year-old political novice was outspent 18-1 yet triumphed thanks in part to her advocacy of “Medicare for All.”

One of Ocasio-Cortez’s first jobs in politics was as an organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. The Medicare for All bill he introduced in 2017, S. 1804, has the official support of one-third of the Senate’s Democrats, including four presidential hopefuls. Six in ten

Senate’s Democrats, including four presidential hopefuls. Six in ten Democratic Members of the House support a similar bill.

Seventy House Democrats have joined the Medicare for All Caucus co-chaired by Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

Medicare for All is a financial fantasy. It would cost the United States more than $32 trillion over its first ten years, according to a study by Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center. And that figure may be overly optimistic. It assumes that Medicare for All will actually be able to achieve trillions of dollars in savings by cutting administrative costs, payment rates to healthcare providers, and drug prices — dubious propositions all.

According to Blahous, even if the government doubled both the federal individual and corporate income tax rates, it still wouldn’t have enough

The fuzzy math behind Medicare for All doesn’t seem to bother its defenders. In one particularly cringe-worthy interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Ocasio-Cortez complained that comparing the annual cost of single-payer to that of the current healthcare system is unfair because it doesn’t account for the “all the funeral expenses of those who died because they can’t afford access to health care.”

It’s not surprising that single-payer advocates are shirking questions about financing their preferred system. They know single-payer would require massive tax increases that would turn off voters. A slim majority of Americans currently say they support single-payer. But support decreases by 19 percentage points when pollsters explain taxes would have to increase, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Huge new taxes aren’t the only reason voters ought to reject single-payer. Government-run health systems invariably provide abysmal care to patients.

Consider the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Between January and March of this year, the NHS abruptly canceled more than 25,000 surgeries — the highest number of cancellations in a single quarter since officials began tracking in 1994. The number of patients who had to wait more than 18 weeks for treatment has increased 35 percent in the past year.

Even patients in need of emergency care face lengthy delays. More than 10 percent of people who visited NHS emergency rooms last month had to wait over four hours for treatment.

Canadians fare just as poorly under their single-payer system, which outlaws private coverage for any procedure deemed medically necessary — just as Sen. Sanders’s plan would. To control costs, Canadian health officials set arbitrary limits on funding for hospitals and clinics. Those price controls lead to an insufficient supply of care. Canada has only 27 physicians and 21 hospital beds for every 10,000 residents. That’s well below the average of 34 doctors and 38 beds per 10,000 residents among the developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As a result, patients wait a long time for care. Last year, the median Canadian patient queued up for a record 21 weeks to receive medically necessary treatment from a specialist after obtaining a referral from a primary care physician. That’s more than double the median wait time 25 years ago.

For patients in some provinces and in need of certain types of care, wait times were even worse. People in Nova Scotia waited a median of nearly 39 weeks for orthopedic surgery — 15 weeks longer than the median nationwide.

All those weeks waiting pick the pockets of Canadians. In 2017, the patients on wait lists sacrificed an average of about $1,800 in foregone wages.

That’s not much return on the $13,000 the average family of four in Canada pays in taxes for health care. So much for “free” socialized medicine.

Progressives are trying to sell voters on a single-payer healthcare plan that charges no premiums, deductibles, or copays. But the math simply doesn’t add up. Any such system would require staggering tax hikes and steep payment cuts to doctors and hospitals. Healthcare providers would no doubt close up shop or retire early in response. That would lead to shortages of and eventually government-ordered rationing.

In a piece for last week, Sen. Sanders wrote that “Medicare for All’s time has come.” The voters will have something to say about that at the polls this November.

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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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