Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is poised to head the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the new Congress, which will be seated January 3. He plans to use his new post to "focus on universal healthcare."
That Sanders would devote his energies to advancing this policy is to be expected. After all, he is the nation's leading advocate for single-payer health care. This past May, he introduced his latest bid for Medicare for All in the Senate.
The newly elected Republican House, with its narrow majority, will be able to stop any bids for a government takeover of the nation's health insurance system. American patients should thank their lucky stars, as people subject to single-payer systems in other countries are suffering profoundly under them.
Look no further than my native Canada. Sanders has long praised the nation for "guaranteeing health care to all people," through its government-run system. Some credit his 1987 trip to Ottawa as a turning-point moment in his fight for single-payer.
As he has explained, "It was kind of mind blowing to realize that the country 50 miles away from where I live — that people could go to the doctor whenever they wanted and not have to take out their wallet."
But Canada's single-payer system today is plagued by the kinds of lengthy wait times, rationing, and shortages that are simply unheard of in the United States.
Quebec resident Emer O'Toole put these failings into stark relief in a recent Twitter thread, wherein she described the heartbreaking experience of seeking treatment for her seriously ill infant.
After failing to secure something as basic as an over-the-counter pain reliever, she spent an entire day in an emergency room without even getting to the pre-triage "registration" phase. During the visit, she writes, "There was an announcement scolding parents for asking staff about wait times and announcing that the average wait time for all but the sickest children was 20 hours from time of registration."
Her search for the most rudimentary medical care for her child stretched on for days and included another unsuccessful visit to a different emergency room and chest X-rays at a semi-private clinic after which she finally learned that her baby had pneumonia. Even then, she struggled to find a pharmacy that could fill a prescription for antibiotics due to a shortage across the province.
A 2005 decision by Canada's Supreme Court permitted private health insurance in Quebec; in the other provinces, private coverage is banned.
Harrowing episodes like O'Toole's are everyday occurrences in the Canadian healthcare system. Indeed, the median wait for treatment from a specialist following referral by a general practitioner is more than 27 weeks, according to the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver think tank.
Waits and subpar care are the inevitable result of a model that charges the government with parsing out a limited supply of healthcare goods and services, instead of harnessing the forces of market competition.
As Canada's healthcare system has continued to deteriorate, officials have begun embracing a gruesome alternative — physician-assisted suicide.
Last year alone, the nation's single-payer health system euthanized more than 10,000 patients. In an astonishing number of cases, individuals with non-fatal conditions are offered suicide as an alternative to treatment.
The nation's veterans affairs office suggested suicide to a former Paralympic athlete after she requested a wheelchair lift be installed in her home. One former armed services member was offered death after seeking support for post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's difficult to contemplate how progressives can look at Canada's tragic healthcare predicament and see it as laudable — enviable, even.
For all his talk of "basic human rights" and "the dignity of life," Sanders continues to champion an approach to health policy that has led to premature death, preventable suffering, and profound inhumanity everywhere it has been tried. Those are the stories that the Senate HELP Committee needs to hear as it charts a path for the nation's health policy.
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 Books 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes. Read Sally Pipes' Reports — More Here.
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