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Democrats’ Disastrous New Health Rx

Michael D. Tanner

As Republicans continue to stumble and bumble in what is likely

a doomed attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare
, there has
been an increasingly desperate search for a bipartisan alternative.
But that Kumbaya moment isn’t going to happen any time soon.

After all, health-care reform is a matter of deep ideological
conviction for both parties.
Most Republicans understand that the desire for universal health
insurance
cannot repeal the basic laws of economics. They might
be too timid to unwind ObamaCare, but most understand that
government and health care are a poor mix. And Democrats? If
anything, Democrats want to double down on their call for
government control of the health-care system.

Democrats, in fact, have moved far to the left on health care.
In the 2016 presidential primaries,
Bernie Sanders proposed “Medicare for All.”
Most Democrats,
including Hillary Clinton, distanced themselves from the idea.
Today, the idea of “single-payer” health care is rapidly becoming
part of Democratic orthodoxy.

Just last weekend, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
told The Wall Street Journal
that she now supports a
single-payer system. And her colleague, Senate Minority Leader
Chuck Schumer, declared “single-payer is on the table” for
Democrats. Sanders may have lost the battle for his party’s
nomination, but he is clearly winning the war over its future
direction.

Democrats want to double
down on their call for government control of the health-care
system.

How the public will react to the Democrats’ desire for
government-run health care remains to be seen.
According to a recent Pew poll
, only a third of Americans
support a single-payer system (although that number rises to 52
percent among Democrats and 64 percent among liberals). Americans
clearly want everyone to have access to health care — we are
a compassionate people — but they’re not rushing to put the
government in charge.

After all, Americans can just look to Bernie’s model, Medicare,
with its $50 trillion in unfunded future liabilities, and recognize
that a single-payer system would be prohibitively expensive. Recall
that Bernie’s campaign proposal would’ve cost more than $30
trillion over its first 10 years.

Earlier this summer, California legislators abandoned an effort
to establish a statewide single-payer system, after the
legislature’s own estimates said it would cost some $400 billion
per year — more than the state’s entire budget.
In New York, a proposal for a state single-payer system
was
estimated to cost $226 billion per year.

Of course, in the face of this unaffordable tide of red ink,
Democrats will point out that other countries with single-payer
systems spend less on health care than the United States. But that
comes with a price of its own: limits on the availability of care.
Some developed countries ration care directly. Some spend less on
facilities, technology or physician incomes, leading to long waits
for care.

Such tradeoffs aren’t inherently bad, and not all health care is
of equal value. Plus, the United States imposes its own form of
rationing by price. No health-care system anywhere in the world
provides everyone with unlimited care. However, Americans have
always believed that such determinations are most appropriately
made by patients rather than the government.


The recent tragedy of young Charlie Gard in the United Kingdom

may have had as much to do with the British legal treatment of
parental rights as it did with rationing by the National Health
Service, but is emblematic of the type of government interference
with health decisions that Americans are unlikely to tolerate.

Moreover, the US investment in health care helps drive medical
innovation and technology around the world. There’s a reason why
more than half of all new drugs are patented in the United States,
and why 80 percent of non-pharmaceutical medical breakthroughs,
from transplants to MRIs, were introduced first here. Just imagine
what would’ve happened if the government had imposed
single-payer-style price controls on health care a hundred years
ago. How many life-saving drugs or vital medical technologies would
not exist today?

The ongoing health-care circus in Washington may seem to be full
of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it’s really about who
should control some of the most personal and important decisions in
a person’s life — millions of individual consumers or the
government bureaucracy. The Democrats have chosen their side in
this debate. Now, let’s see what the Republicans think.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.