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Opinion: Single-Payer ‘Medicare for All’ Would Inflate Americans’ Healthcare Bills

OpinionOpinion: Single-Payer ‘Medicare for All’ Would Inflate Americans’ Healthcare Bills

Ambulances at Kaiser Permanente Zion Medical Center in Grantville.Ambulances at Kaiser Permanente in Kearny Mesa. Photo by Chris Stone

Inflation is ripping through every sector of the U.S. economy. But there’s one curious exception: healthcare.

The cost of medical care is up 3.5% in the last year. The overall inflation rate, by contrast, is nearly two-and-a-half times higher — 8.3%.

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So why are Sen. Bernie Sanders and 14 of his Democratic colleagues proposing to essentially nationalize the U.S. health insurance system? The Vermont socialist introduced his latest bid for Medicare for All in May at a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee, which he chairs.

Thanks but no thanks, senator. As other countries with government-run healthcare systems prove, Medicare for All is no bargain. In fact, patients trapped in socialized medicine often pay huge sums out of pocket — and for low-quality care.

It’s true that the United States spends more per head on health care than other advanced economies. But that’s largely a function of wealth. Americans, on average, are much richer than our peers in other developed nations.

For example, per-capita health spending is $6,600 higher in the United States than in the United Kingdom. But Americans make $22,000 more per year, on a per-capita basis.

Similarly, Germany spends about $5,500 less per head on health care. But its per capita GDP is about $17,000 less than the United States.

Our higher spending levels correlate with better health outcomes. Cancer prevalence has been rising globally, but survival rates in the United States have been increasing.

Meanwhile, Americans typically do not have to endure the long waits common in the United Kingdom and Canada. In April, more than 24,000 people in England waited more than 12 hours in emergency departments before a decision was made about whether to admit them.

In a newly released book, former UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he was “shocked to his core” by failures in care, including hundreds of avoidable deaths.

In Canada in 2019, 4.6 million people over the age of 12 lacked a family doctor, according to the country’s national statistics agency. Last year, the median wait to receive treatment from a specialist in Canada following referral by a general practitioner was 25.6 weeks — roughly six months.

Patients pay dearly for their low-quality government-sponsored health care. There are the high taxes, of course. A typical family of four in Canada pays more than $15,000 in taxes just for health care.

In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service costs each English household around 5,785 pounds — a little over $7,100 — each year. That per-household cost has increased more than 75% since 2000.

Increasingly, people abroad are paying for a lot of their own care out of pocket — despite having government-sponsored health insurance. In the United Kingdom, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses rose about 5.3% between 2020 and 2021. By 2019, 17% of the costs of medical care in the United Kingdom were coming directly out of people’s wallets.

The Canadian healthcare system doesn’t cover prescription drugs or dental, vision, or rehab services. Out-of-pocket payments accounted for roughly 15% of Canadian healthcare costs in 2019.

In the United States, by comparison, just 11% of healthcare expenses come out of patients’ pockets.

A recent event promoting single payer that Sen. Sanders put on with Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Anniken R. Krutnes, was rife with irony. She claimed, “I will never pay more than $350 a year for health care or medicines,” referring to her annual deductible.

If so, she’ll likely be skipping dental care and the many prescription drugs the government has decided not to cover. In fact, Norway ranks right behind the United States and Switzerland in per-capita healthcare expenses. Total out-of-pocket costs accounted for nearly 14% of Norwegian health expenses in 2019.

Almost 15% of Norway’s workforce elects to pay for private supplemental health coverage to avoid government rationing and wait times. Most private supplemental insurance plans are covered via employment.

Sen. Sanders would ban even that kind of modest private coverage under Medicare for All.

Government-provided health care abroad is not free. People pay for it one way or another — whether out of pocket, through taxes, or even with their lives.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020).

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