The real cost of ‘Medicare for All’ could be American lives

During the most recent Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders made the case for Medicare for All, saying, “We need a health care system that guarantees health care to all people as every other major country does.”

Sanders is right to point out the similarities between his plan and government-run health-care systems in other countries. But he’s wrong to think Americans would fare better under Medicare for All. Just ask the millions of people suffering under such systems elsewhere.

Sanders and company promise a practically perfect health-care system, one even more generous than the existing Medicare program — comprehensive coverage, with no deductibles or co-pays, for every American.

That care wouldn’t be free. It’d cost between $32 trillion and $38 trillion over 10 years, according to research from the Mercatus Center’s Charles Blahous.

But that cost would be obscured. Patients could walk into any hospital or doctor’s office and leave without receiving a bill. Out-of-pocket prescription-drug costs would be capped at $200 a year. To the average American, health care would seem a lot cheaper.

That would stoke nearly unlimited demand for care. But there’s already a limited supply.

Hospitals are closing in rural and urban areas alike. America is projected to be short some 122,000 doctors by 2032.

Hospitals and doctors would have no choice but to ration care — and force people to wait their turn.

That’s exactly what happens in Canada, the closest analog to Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

There, the median wait for treatment from a specialist following referral from a general practitioner is nearly 20 weeks. They pay a princely sum for that wait — more than $13,000 in taxes for the average family of four.

Doctors in the United Kingdom only have enough time to treat their sickest patients. And so there are anorexic women told they’re not skinny enough to receive treatment or elderly patients who have to wait until they’re nearly blind to have their cataracts removed.

Things don’t improve much once patients get off the waiting list. To save time, Canadian doctors frequently prohibit patients from discussing more than one issue per appointment. In the United Kingdom, patients could find themselves shoved into a 15-person “group appointment.”

Worse, these folks are the lucky ones.

In Canada and the United Kingdom, patients have died in overcrowded, understaffed hospitals before seeing a doctor. One retired neurosurgeon in British Columbia reported to the emergency department at the hospital he had served for 50 years with chest pains. Despite clearly expressing his symptoms, he was reportedly given two aspirin tablets without water and told to wait. He died in the waiting room.

Sen. Sanders’ proposal to “guarantee” comprehensive coverage to all Americans is understandably tempting. But the victims of single-payer health care abroad show just how high the cost of Medicare for All would be.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith fellow in health-care policy at the Pacific Research Institute.

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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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