A revival movement is sweeping the nation. Millions of souls have already been converted, thanks to a charismatic preacher and his passionate disciples.
I’m talking, of course, about the doctrine of “Medicare for All” and its chief evangelist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The socialist senator’s sermons appear to have swayed the masses. In 42 states, a majority of residents now support a Medicare-for-All system, according to new research from Data for Progress, a left-wing think tank. That’s a significant increasefrom September of last year, when fewer than half of Americans supported single-payer.
It’s no mystery why the number of single-payer converts has grown. Sen. Sanders and his progressive allies preach that single-payer will ensure universal coverage and deliver high-quality care. That sounds heavenly to ordinary Americans frustrated by the shortcomings of the healthcare status quo.
But Sen. Sanders is bearing false witness. Single-payer has failed terribly in the United Kingdom and Canada. Resurrecting the model in the United States would be disastrous.
Single-payer seemed to be heresy until recently. When Sen. Sanders introduced a Medicare-for-All bill in 2013, he wasn’t able to convince a single colleague to sign on as a co-sponsor.
That all changed in 2016. His fiery speeches and rallies during and after his presidential campaign electrified progressive voters. Now, nearly all the rising stars in the Democratic Party favor single-payer. One in three Senate Democrats supports Medicare for All. Sixty percent of House Democrats have co-sponsored a similar bill.
Most Americans don’t understand how single-payer systems actually function. As Democratic pollster Geoff Garin recently admitted, “There really is no such thing today as [a] fully informed public opinion verdict on single-payer.”
Forty-seven percent of Americans believe — wrongly — that they’d be able to keep their existing health plans under a single-payer system. By definition, single-payer systems effectively outlaw private insurance and enroll all residents in a one-size-fits-all, government-run health plan.
Single-payer systems inevitably ration care to control costs. The officials who run these systems have no other choice. With medical services free or nearly free at the doctor’s office or hospital, the government has no way to temper patients’ demand for medical care. The absence of market pricing means patients have no incentive to economize by choosing the most cost-effective providers.
Rationing can occur in one of two ways. Governments can ration care directly by nationalizing hospitals and clinics. The government holds down costs by hiring a limited number of doctors and building relatively few hospitals.
Or governments can set low reimbursement rates for physicians and hospitals. This discourages people from joining the medical profession and building new facilities. Doctor shortages and long wait times for patients are the result.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service employs the first option. Shortages and delays are so bad that the British Red Cross last year warned the system was experiencing a “humanitarian crisis”.
Amid chronic overcrowding during this winter’s flu season, NHS doctors were forced to treat over 100 patients a day in hospital hallways due to a lack of beds. Thousands of patients waited in ambulances for an hour or more before receiving care. Only one in three British patients is satisfied with the NHS, according to a recent poll.
My native Canada utilizes the second strategy. It sets such low reimbursements that the country suffers from a chronic, and worsening, shortage of doctors. Last year, the typical Canadian patient waited 21 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist after obtaining a referral from a general practitioner.
In many cases, seniors bear the brunt of this rationing. One in three Canadians 65 and older is dissatisfied with the quality of care she receives, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund. The study examined 11 developed countries, including the United States, and found that Canada ranks dead last on patient satisfaction rates.
Wait lists are so long that many patients leave Canada to seek care abroad, even though they have to pay for treatments out of pocket. In 2017, an estimated 63,000 Canadians sought medical treatment in another country.
The Gospel according to Bernie doesn’t lead to salvation — it leads to ruin. If progressives raise up a single-payer system in the United States, Americans will experience the same life-threatening rationing that Britons and Canadians face every day.