Days before assuming office, President Trump commented that his as-yet-undisclosed replacement for ObamaCare — which he says will be released following the confirmation of Dr. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services — would provide “insurance for everybody.”
It’s no mystery why. Who could oppose universal insurance coverage?
Unfortunately, the track record for government-provided universal coverage is terrible. New evidence from the United Kingdom and Canada shows just how disastrous and costly government-dominated health care systems that claim to provide universal coverage can be for patients.
The National Health Service, the United Kingdom’s government-run health care system, has grown so strained that it constitutes a “humanitarian crisis,” the British Red Cross reported this month.
Britain’s NHS “guarantees” coverage to all citizens. But the state consistently fails to allocate health care resources efficiently. The result is chronic rationing of care.
Earlier this month, more than 20 NHS hospitals announced that they were so full that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their patients, including those seeking emergency care.
The human cost of this overcrowding is heart-wrenching. In Glasgow, Scotland, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital is so overburdened it’s had to turn away women in labor.
In rural Worcester, England, a man was stranded on an ambulance gurney for five hours before his heart attack was diagnosed by doctors. He spent another seven hours on that stretcher before he finally received the stent and angioplasty he needed.
In a hospital in Essex, northeast of London, doctors twice canceled a potentially lifesaving surgery for a patient with esophageal cancer because not a single bed in the intensive-care unit was free. “I have never seen so many cancer operations canceled,” a doctor at the hospital told reporters.
And in Wales, an 82-year-old woman who had fallen waited eight hours on the floor before an ambulance arrived. Her daughter sat beside her during the ordeal and described it as “one of the longest nights of my life.”
Things aren’t much better under the government-run single-payer system in Canada. A new report by the Fraser Institute, a think tank, shows that Canadian patients last year endured a median waiting time of five months for specialist treatment after referral from their general practitioner. That’s the longest wait ever recorded. By comparison, in 1993, patients waited just nine weeks — less than half as long.
Such lengthy waits aren’t merely inconvenient. Untreated illness can affect patients’ ability to work and thus saddle them with serious financial difficulties. In some cases, Fraser notes, “potentially reversible illnesses or injuries (turn) into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities.”
Yet for some reason, the specter of universal coverage continues to haunt America’s health care debate. Trump’s commitment to “covering everybody” dates back years. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” he insisted that “we must have universal coverage.” He made a similar case on “60 Minutes” in 2015.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the head of the nation’s largest nurses’ union recently called Trump “the one I’m counting on” to create a single-payer system in the United States.
The goal of health reform should be to expand access to affordable, quality medical care to all who need it. “Universal coverage” is meaningless if that coverage doesn’t actually provide access to care. Just ask patients in the United Kingdom or Canada.
If President Trump is truly interested in rescuing America’s faltering health system, he needs to move past this dangerous obsession with “universal coverage.” In his soon-to-be-released plan, he should call for replacing ObamaCare with policies that focus on universal choice and access.