During the recent unveiling of his latest plan for “Medicare for All,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., touched on a familiar theme. “Health care,” he said, “is a human right that all Americans, regardless of income, are entitled to.”
But health care is neither a right nor a privilege.
Health care is a collection of goods and services. The task of health policy is to ensure timely and affordable access to these goods and services for all who need them – and to do so without sacrificing quality of care.
Medicare for All would ban private health insurance and give everyone the right to public coverage. All Americans would have an insurance card with their name on it. But as concrete evidence from Medicare for All-like systems abroad clearly shows, access to coverage is not the same as access to care.
This is because the supply of health care is limited, like any other good or service. Unlimited demand — fueled by Medicare for All’s promise that care will be free at the point of delivery — paired with limited supply is a recipe for shortages, long waits, and suffering far worse than anything Americans see in our current system.
Britain’s National Health Service, the single-payer system established in 1948, has subjected patients to life-threatening treatment delays and substandard care for generations. And this crisis has only worsened in recent years.
According to a report in May, a record 6.4million patients in England were waiting for care. A separate study published on May 31 by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine found that a lack of capacity in NHS emergency rooms was causing ‘real harm to patients’ and was a ‘serious crisis for patient safety’. .
In Canada, the situation is much the same. According to the Fraser Institute, a research organization based in Vancouver, the typical wait time for Canadian patients to receive specialist care following a referral by a general practitioner is more than 25 weeks. Median wait times in some provinces are now over a year.
It’s no surprise, then, that more than 200,000 Canadians leave the country for treatment, according to a 2017 analysis by SecondStreet.org, a Canadian think tank.
The single-payer absolutists in the United States almost never acknowledge the grim conditions of these and other government-run health systems. Rather, it’s the very health care plans that Sanders praises when he laments that America is “the one great country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all of its citizens.”
But in what sense does the UK or Canada “guarantee health care to all its citizens”? Months or years of waiting for necessary care mocks these guarantees. As former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in a 2005 decision challenging the Canadian system’s ban on private insurance coverage: “Access to a list of waiting is not access to health care.
And when the government is responsible for a person’s care, it can decide the conditions under which that care is provided. In 2017, some local NHS branches began restricting elective surgery for people who smoked or were obese.
Moreover, the “free” health care that Sanders claims to offer is anything but. The senator himself has suggested that his proposal would cost taxpayers between $30 trillion and $40 trillion over the next decade – funds that are expected to be raised in part through a combination of massive tax increases and tax hikes. huge inflation-promoting deficits.
Single-payer health care is not free elsewhere. In Canada, the average family of four pays more than $15,000 a year in taxes just to support the country’s public health insurance system.
Sanders wants to force all American patients into a single, hugely expensive, government-run healthcare program — the kind of program that has stifled access to timely, high-quality medical care everywhere it’s been tried. and resulted in unnecessary pain and death.
It is a vision of what constitutes a “human right”.
Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. His latest book is “False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All” (Dating 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.