House Democrats haven't given up on bringing socialized health care to the United States — at least judging from a hearing the Committee on Oversight and Reform held earlier this week.
The event was titled "Examining Pathways to Universal Health Coverage." But for the committee's Democrats, the only pathway worth considering was a complete government health care takeover.
That path was difficult to defend the last time House Democrats held such a hearing back in 2019. And it hasn't aged well since then. Indeed, the evidence that socialized health care invariably leads to rationing, low-quality care and avoidable human suffering continues to mount.
But Democrats would rather ignore this reality than give up on their dreams of Medicare for All.
Then again, progressives have rarely based their case for socialized medicine on evidence or argument, relying instead on vague emotional appeals. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., admitted as much during the hearing: "I came to Congress because 'Medicare for All,' it's not a choice for me. It's a moral imperative."
So it's no surprise that many of the witnesses shared heart-wrenching stories. Several panelists described in detail the suffering — and even death — that can result when sick patients lack access to needed medical care.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., employed the same kind of manipulative rhetoric just a few days before, when he announced his intention to reintroduce his own Medicare for All bill in the Senate.
"In the midst of the current set of horrors — war, oligarchy, pandemics, inflation, climate change, etc — we must continue the fight to establish health care as a human right, not a privilege," Sanders said.
That high-quality, affordable health care should be available to all who need it is difficult to deny. But the idea that a single, government-run health insurance plan is the best means of achieving this goal isn't just wrong — it's backwards. Even a cursory glance at single-payer health care systems abroad reveals why.
The United Kingdom's government-run health system, the National Health Service, has been teetering toward collapse for decades. Things have only gotten worse since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to official data released in March, almost 24,000 NHS patients have been waiting for over two years for non-urgent care. The entire non-urgent waiting list now includes 6.1 million people — the highest figure in the NHS's history.
Treatment delays for cancer patients have also set records in the United Kingdom. Thousands of people have been forced to wait over a month for chemotherapy, surgery, or other urgent cancer care. These kinds of delays help explain why cancer survival rates are consistently lower in Great Britain than they are in the United States.
Not surprisingly, public approval for the NHS is at its lowest levels in a quarter-century. Only about one-third of Britons are satisfied with their public health care system. And 41% are either "very" or "quite" dissatisfied.
If a government-run health system can't meet the needs of the United Kingdom's 67 million residents, why believe it would do any better in a nation like the United States, with a population nearly five times the size spread out over a much larger area?
The NHS is hardly an outlier among socialized health systems. The typical delay for specialist care in Canada's single-payer system was over 25 weeks in 2021. Patients in some provinces face median wait times of over a year.
The Canadian province of Manitoba announced in January that it would send up to 300 people across the border to North Dakota for spinal surgery because it can’t meet their needs in a timely fashion. All have been waiting for more than a year for care.
Of course, shortages, long wait times, and rationed care are the predictable result of a health care system in which bureaucrats decide how best to distribute a finite pot of public resources.
The debate over health care should confine itself to one question above all others: What is the best way to make timely, affordable, high-quality health care available to all who need it? On that matter, Medicare for All doesn't even deserve a hearing.
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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