Bernie Sanders' Single-Payer Message Won't Fly

Bernie Sanders' Single-Payer Message Won't Fly
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Government-run health care is back on the front burner of American politics. Last week, President Trump took a shot at Democrats for pushing for British-style single-payer health care. The United Kingdom's "system is going broke and not working," he wrote on Twitter. 

The president's tweet followed an online town-hall meeting on single-payer convened by Sen. Bernie Sanders and streamed live to about 1 million viewers in late January.  Sanders railed that "the United States is the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people." He -- and the bulk of the Democratic caucus -- hope to build public support for government-run health care in the United States. 

The public need only look to such systems abroad to see what Sanders and company have in store for them. Life-threatening wait times, a lack of accessibility to cutting-edge treatments, and outright rationing of care are endemic to single-payer.

Sanders's plan to implement "Medicare for All" is nothing short of a full-scale government takeover of America's health-care system. The current Medicare program, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and many other government coverage schemes would cease to exist.

Private insurers would be prohibited from offering coverage that competes with Medicare for All.  So the nearly 160 million Americans with employer-sponsored insurance, and the nearly 22 million who purchase it on their own, would lose that coverage and find themselves swept up in the new government-run plan.

Medicare for All would be far more generous than the existing Medicare -- no co-pays, co-insurance, or deductibles. Even vision and dental care would be covered.  

Of course, nationalizing one-sixth of the American economy wouldn't be cheap. Federal health-care spending would likely increase by $2.5 trillion in the year after Medicare for All was implemented, according to an Urban Institute analysis of the single-payer plan Sanders released during his presidential run.  Over a decade, the cost would total $32 trillion. 

What's most troubling about Sanders' proposal, however, is that he's based his vision on a patently false assumption -- the idea that single-payer is synonymous with "guaranteed health care." The opposite is true, as evidenced by nearly every real-world example of socialized medicine to date. 

Take the United Kingdom's National Health Service. For years, the program's mismanaged finances and chronic staff shortages have made overcrowded hospitals and lengthy treatment delays basic facts of life for British patients. 

Today, the NHS stands on the brink of collapse -- a crisis for which Britons are paying dearly. Medical facilities are so overburdened that it is common for patients to be treated in hospital corridors -- a practice that has resulted in many patients "dying prematurely," according to a recent letter to the British government by NHS doctors.  

This winter, an estimated 100,000 U.K. residents waited for 30 minutes or longer in the back of ambulances before hospital emergency departments could accommodate them.  The NHS even canceled roughly 55,000 surgeries to conserve resources during this winter's flu season. 

And the NHS is a long way from addressing the crisis. It had aimed to attract 600 doctors from abroad by April 2018 to help deal with its shortage of qualified personnel. This week, the NHS reported that it will fall 500 short of its goal.

The situation for patients in Canada's single-payer system is little different. Lengthy delays for necessary treatment are the norm. Last year, the typical wait for patients to receive treatment from specialists was a record-high 21.2 weeks, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. In the province of New Brunswick, the median wait time for specialist treatment was nearly double that -- 41.7 weeks. 

Sanders and company don't want to acknowledge as much, but this is what government-guaranteed health care looks like. When bureaucrats allocate our health-care resources, instead of relying on markets, life-threatening shortages, delays, and rationing are the result. 

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her next book, “The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care” (Encounter), will be published this spring. Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

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