Americans understandably are not satisfied with the state of healthcare. Our expenses are high, our choices are limited, our access is inequitable, and our public programs are overburdened and underfunded. Perhaps this is why so many people are attracted to the simple but misguided solution of single-payer healthcare. The desire to “do something” is strong, but we shouldn’t let this desire exacerbate the problems we face today — which is exactly what single-payer healthcare would do.
Over the past several weeks, President Joe Biden has attacked Republicans for wanting to slash Medicare and Social Security — an allegation much more laughable than true. But if Biden wants to play the scaremongering game, he might want to target members of his own political party. During the last Congress, more than half of House Democrats sponsored a bill that would abolish the Medicare program, the Senate version of which was written by none other than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This proposal, Medicare for All, is just the latest iteration of a single-payer healthcare program, a longtime goal of America’s progressives.
The mainstream press won’t highlight this fact, but the Vermont socialist’s single-payer legislation nixes the program that has funded care for seniors since its creation in 1965. Section 901(a) of his most recent single-payer bill states that “no benefits shall be available under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act” — that’s the current Medicare program — “for any item or service furnished beginning on or after the effective date of benefits” for the new program.
Section 701(d) of Sanders’s bill would go further and transfer every single dollar from the Medicare trust funds into a separate account for the new socialized medicine program. In other words, his legislation would take funds currently dedicated toward seniors and use them to pay for “free” healthcare for billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
Sanders calls his bill “Medicare for All,” but the facts say otherwise. He and his allies hope to sell their socialist “utopia” based on this type of false messaging, but the reality will prove far different than promised. The public will face trillions of dollars in tax increases that will strangle the economy, not to mention worse care — if they can get care at all.
The current crisis in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) demonstrates what can happen when a country’s single-payer system is forced to end up rationing care. Because the NHS provides most treatments “free” to patients, Britain’s government cannot control the demand for care, so instead they control supply by limiting access.
Years of sparse government funding have led to ghastly results. In December, a category of patients that includes heart attack and stroke victims waited an average of 90 minutes for an ambulance. In that same month, nearly 55,000 individuals waited on gurneys for at least 12 hours in the ER after doctors had decided to admit them because the hospitals had no available beds. And 7.2 million patients — more than 10% of England’s population — stood on waiting lists for treatment, with approximately 3 million waiting more than 18 weeks and over 406,000 waiting more than a year.
These types of outcomes could await Americans should single-payer healthcare come to our shores. Thankfully, and surprisingly, Sanders has bowed to reality for the moment, admitting that “what I ultimately would like to accomplish is not going to happen right now” while Republicans control the House of Representatives. But if Democrats retain the presidency, retake the House, and expand their majorities in the Senate next November, either single-payer or a socialist-lite government-run health plan will definitely be top of the agenda.
Americans should be on guard against the slippery slope of a single-payer system. As more states propose “public option” plans and the healthcare industry continues to consolidate, it will be easier and easier for these public options to become the only option in parts of the country, which will yield the same bad results as a single-payer system. One of the most important things that health reformers can do to empower patients is to fight against efforts to make the government a monopoly in healthcare, no matter what these efforts are called.
So while Biden may try to send seniors into a frenzy by reviving the familiar “Mediscare” playbook, Americans should spend more time focusing on what he and Democrats would do if they regain full control of the levers of power in Washington. That should scare not just seniors, but voters of all ages.