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September 11 2017

Single Payer Would Mean Higher Costs, Lower Quality

by Hadley Heath

This week Sen. Bernie Sanders is unveiling his "Medicare for all" healthcare bill, which would, as the name implies, allow all Americans to enroll in Medicare. Given the challenges facing ObamaCare, many on both the left and right are looking for better ways to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care.

There's only one problem: Medicare-for-all wouldn't do that. Medicare for all is the latest euphemism for single-payer health care (which is the language the left has used since "socialized medicine" went out of vogue). This latest rebranding is misleading, but it's intentional: Majorities of seniors report being satsified with Medicare, and Medicare provides a higher level of healthcare access than its cousin for the poor, Medicaid. But advocates of "Medicare for all" -- including Sen. Sanders -- paint a false utopian picture instead of what would ultimately look more like "Medicaid for all" at best, or DMV-style health care at worst. 

Single-payer health systems all have a few factors in common: high taxation for funding, government rationing of health services through cost-benefit data, long wait times and low quality of services. While some advocates of single payer emphasize that private options could continue to operate alongside a government payer (despite the name "single payer"), that's not likely to help large swaths of Americans who won't be able to afford anything other than the public option. Yes, in some countries with single payer, a two-tiered system has emerged where privileged, wealthy people can escape the public system for better care. 

For more information, watch this video from The Steamboat Institute:

These realities don't stop some on the Left from intentionally misleading on the subject. In today's New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt applauds single payer (in commentary disguised as Q and A). In answering the question "Does single payer work well in other countries?" Leonhardt says:

Generally, yes, it works very well. Costs are lower across Europe, Canada and Australia, where government plays a bigger role in medical care than here, and citizens in many of those places live longer than Americans. This is the single best argument for single-payer.

Well, I'm so glad this is the best argument for single payer because it's also a very easy one to debunk. In fact, this argument has been debunked many times.

Life expectancy is not a good metric for the quality of health care available. Even within the U.S., life expectancies vary greatly between counties. And sadly for liberals (and for everyone), life expectancy has actually gone down in the U.S. on average since ObamaCare became law. But can we think of a few reasons people in other countries might live longer than the average American? Violence? Car fatalities? Drug addiction? Lifestyle choices? There's little that American health providers can do to make more Americans drive safely or exercise more. This is outside of their scope. Sure, doctors can tell you to eat healthy (they do!) but they can't enforce it. And God forbid the government ever have that kind of power. Broccoli mandate, anyone?

Cubans have longer life expectancies than Americans. But check out these photos from real-life Cuban healthcare facilities. Which would you choose -- to go to the doctor there, or in the U.S.?

Better metrics exist for measuring the quality of care available to Americans. For example, we might compare life expectancies after the diagnosis of cancer, or another major illness, or life expectancy for older people, and what do you know? We find that the U.S. wins every time. It's only due to the absence of a one-size-fits-none government-run health system that the U.S. can continue to treat each patient as a valuable individual. Don't be fooled by calls for Medicare for all, or single payer. Our health insurance markets desperately need more competition, not less. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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