Rock legend Mick Jagger could have had his lifesaving heart surgery in the UK, but he chose to have it in the USA. Jagger’s decision speaks volumes about health care in the two countries. But beware: Democrats, led by Bernie Sanders, want to bring UK-style care to our shores under the guise of “Medicare for all” or “single payer.”
First, let’s dispense with the cute focus-group-tested names and call Medicare for All what it really is: a hijacking of our healthcare system that would make Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez proud. When government commandeers an entire industry, it’s called nationalization. Instead of “I want you to have Medicare for all,” how about “I want to nationalize your healthcare.” At least it’s honest. Scary, but honest.
Before we turn over our health care and our lives to the government, Bernie and company need to answer some questions. Why is a massively inefficient government the best vehicle to administer health care? What’s proposed is a socialist model; every socialist takeover of any industry has resulted in shortages and long waits; why will it be different this time? Will they create an agency to deny care like the UK has done with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)? Politicians only know how to count votes and money; why are politicians the best choice to run health care for every American? Democrats had a chance to reform health care and instead gave us the mess that is Obamacare, fraught with high premiums, high co-pays and high deductibles. Why do Democrats deserve a second chance? Every Democrat who voted for Obamacare lied about it (including Sens. Sanders and Gillibrand– why should we believe anything they say about health care now?
All they have to do to cover every American is to just say “you’re covered.” It’s that easy, but getting people to a doctor is a much tougher trick. Currently, there are 940,000 physicians practicing in the US. Throw in 388,000 physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners, and that brings the number to 1.3 million healthcare providers in the US to care for 325 million people. With these numbers, we can draw up the waiting list right now. Getting a medical degree takes smarts and loads of determination. It takes four years of undergraduate study, four years in medical school and 3-plus years in residency. That’s why doctors are rare. Doctors in Canada and the UK are paid less, so many go abroad to work, creating doctor shortages in their own countries. Where is Bernie going to get the doctors? Or does he plan to wave a magic wand and make them appear?
They say we will save oodles by having the government as the single payer. Not true. Every doctor’s office already submits claims on the same form and uses the same codes to bill for services. All a government takeover will accomplish is to change the mailing address of the bill. The government will have to hire legions of bureaucrats to administer health care to the masses (that’s us). How many? In the UK the National Health Service (NHS) employs 1.5 million to run health care for 66 million Britons, making the NHS the biggest employer in the UK and the 5th largest employer in the world. Extrapolating from the NHS number to 325 million Americans means we will need 7.4 million new bureaucrats. Medicare, the government program designed for seniors, already has unfunded liabilities of $37 trillion. Efficient? No. Money-saving? I don’t think so.
Bernie and his followers love the British system. They always cite the per-capita healthcare spending of the US ($10,224) versus the UK ($4,246) to scold us about how stupid and wasteful we are. The per-capita number is so cold. Let’s try it in human terms. Would you volunteer to have less spent on you or your loved ones when they are in need? Bernie, Kirsten, I don’t see your hands up.
The National Health Service is virtually all that remains of Britain’s brief and painful flirtation with socialism. Like any socialist system, the NHS is centrally planned. A fixed amount of money is allocated by Parliament and is then distributed to where the planners think it should go. When the money runs out, so does health care. The central planners are often wrong. Circumstances arise that the planners didn’t anticipate.
In 2015, an NPR report found that hospitals and ER’s in the UK were overcrowded. It was so bad that ambulances full of suffering patients were left outside hospitals for five hours. Paramedics were forced to treat these unfortunate patients. Hospitals locked doors to keep patients out. To quote the NPR story, “the horror stories just keep coming in.” A 2009 story in the Daily Telegraph found thousands of hospitalized patients were thirsty and hungry. Thousands more were suffering from repeatedly canceled operations. As recently as 2018 the NHS was having a “Winter Crisis” with the influx of patients overwhelming the NHS ability to care for them. That’s the tragedy of central planning: no anticipation, no flexibility equals human suffering. It’s not because of a lack of funding. Health care spending in the UK has increased 160% from 2000 to 2015. Guess what else has increased from 2000 to 2015? Britons’ spending on private health care. It has gone up 233%.
Mick Jagger chose us for two reasons: timeliness and quality. The socialist model always forces people to wait and diminishes quality. No amount of money will fix that. Put yourself in the shoes of a union member or a senior. Nationalization will take away your hard-won plan. Medicare will no longer be for seniors, and deluxe union plans will be outlawed. There will be no choice; it’s the government plan or no plan. There are many lessons to be learned here. Let’s make sure we all get it and tell everyone about it. Our lives depend on it.
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.