Progressives just got one step closer to their dream of socialized health care. In a party-line vote this week, the Democratic House majority ratified a $3.5 trillion budget plan that includes the largest expansion of government-run health care in recent memory.
Among other things, the proposal would lower Medicare's eligibility age while expanding the entitlement to cover dental, hearing and vision care. It would also make generous Obamacare premium subsidies permanent and take steps to further expand Medicaid.
Although these reforms fall short of a complete government takeover of health insurance and the healthcare system, they have the backing of Medicare for All's chief tribune, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his progressive allies.
It's no mystery why. By increasing the number of Americans who rely on the government for health coverage, the Democrats' budget plan puts the nation within walking distance of single-payer health care.
Take the proposal to lower Medicare's eligibility age, likely to 60. This one change would add 23 million people to the program at an estimated annual cost of up to $100 billion and bring total enrollment to over 84 million. That's equivalent to roughly one-quarter of the U.S. population.
The country's other major healthcare entitlement, Medicaid, would also get a wave of new enrollees under the Democrats' plan. The program, jointly funded by the federal government and the states, covers nearly 75 million Americans. That makes it the nation's largest provider of health coverage.
Obamacare ordered states to expand the entitlement to all residents earning 138% of the poverty level or below. To sweeten the deal, the law had the federal government pick up 90% of the cost of insuring this expansion population in perpetuity — more than the feds pay for Medicaid's legacy population.
The U.S. Supreme Court later made that expansion optional. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia expanded their Medicaid programs as Obamacare directed; 12 have held out.
The new budget plan targets those 12 states by establishing a federally-funded public option-type program similar to Medicaid that would cover would-be expansion patients in those states.
Together, these two reforms would bring nearly half the country into some form of government-run health coverage. Add to this the millions of people who get subsidized coverage through Obamacare's exchanges, and the share of Americans who aren't dependent on the government for health care shrinks even further.
So it's to be expected that Sen. Sanders and those in his camp are so enthusiastic about the Democrats' budget plan. American patients, on the other hand, have much to fear.
To understand why, consider the recent experiences of Canada and the United Kingdom, two countries that have long subjected their populations to single-payer health care.
Britain's National Health Service routinely sets records for the amount of time patients must wait for treatment. Some 5.5 million English patients are currently waiting in line for routine hospital care. That's 1 in 10 residents.
According to the country's health secretary, that figure will likely shoot up soon. The NHS estimates that number could reach 14 million by the fall of next year.
In my native Canada, the median wait for specialist care following referral from a general practitioner is more than 20 weeks. In some places, it exceeds 46 weeks.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the barriers to timely care have grown. In Ontario, the backlog of surgeries, medical procedures, and screenings now totals nearly 16 million.
Canada also takes poor care of its senior citizens. In 2020, 8 in 10 of the country's COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care homes.
Democrats seem astoundingly unfazed by the waits, rationing and even denials of care that are parts of life in Canada and the United Kingdom — and endemic to government-run health care. Their $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation deal gets them one giant leap closer to foisting single-payer upon an unsuspecting American public.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare 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. Read Sally Pipes' Reports — More Here.
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