Fresh off their successful defense of Obamacare before the U.S. Supreme Court, Democrats are looking to expand government control over the country's healthcare system.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have requested information on how to create a new public health insurance option. Senate Democrats led by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., want to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 as part of a $6 trillion budget reconciliation package. And Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is looking to levy price controls on prescription drugs.
They'd be wise to take stock of the latest data chronicling the performance of the government-dominated healthcare systems in the United Kingdom and Canada. For years, Britons and Canadians have struggled to gain timely access to high-quality care. In the wake of the pandemic, things have only gotten worse.
More than 5.1 million English patients were waiting for hospital care in April of this year, according to the National Health Service. That's nearly one in every ten residents of England. And it's the highest total since the NHS began keeping track in August 2007.
In many cases, these delays stretch on for months, or even years. More than 385,000 NHS patients have waited more than a year for care. Over 2,700 have been waiting for more than two years.
In Northern Ireland, the situation is worse, with some patients waiting more than seven years for specialty care.
And the waits are likely to grow. This month, the United Kingdom's Health Secretary estimated that 12 million people were in need of elective surgery. There's quite a lot of ground to make up. Last year, there were 1.6 million fewer operations in England and Wales than would've been expected in a normal year.
Fixing the wait crisis could cost 40 billion pounds, over four years, according to estimates from the British government.
Instead of holding itself to higher standards, the NHS seems poised to move the goalposts. Since 2004, the agency has set a goal of seeing 95% of emergency-room patients in four hours or fewer. Having frequently failed to meet that target, the NHS recently announced it would abandon the policy altogether.
Canadian patients face similar waits. In 2019, 4.8 million Canadians -- well over 12% of the country -- didn't have a regular doctor. That same year, patients typically waited more than 20 weeks for specialist care following referral by a general practitioner, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
Not surprisingly, these wait times grew last year, to 22.6 weeks. In Ottawa alone, more than 20,000 patients are currently waiting for surgery. In Quebec, some 145,000 people are awaiting surgeries. The province's health minister predicts that it will take almost two years to get that number down to 100,000.
Canada has also been slow to vaccinate its population. Fewer than one-fifth of Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to more than 45% of the U.S. population.
Last week, the U.S. government announced it would donate 1 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to Canada. The country's single-payer system has so neutered its domestic pharmaceutical industry that it was incapable of meeting its own vaccine production needs.
Shortages, rationing, and delays are part and parcel of every single-payer healthcare system worldwide. Government central planners cannot possibly hope to distribute healthcare resources as efficiently as markets can. Without price signals to allocate goods and services where they're in greatest demand, patients wait -- and wait and wait.
This is a lesson that the American left refuses to learn. Defenders of Obamacare celebrate that the law made Medicaid into the nation's largest health insurance provider. Lowering Medicare's eligibility age to 60 would bring 23 million Americans into the program. Many of them would drop their private coverage in order to go on the taxpayer's dole.
Most Democrats see these expansions of public health insurance programs as steps toward a full-blown single-payer system, where private coverage is outlawed and the federal government is the only health insurer.
Patients in the United Kingdom and Canada should be able to tell their counterparts in America what a disastrous state of affairs that is.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.
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