Late Monday evening, I felt a stabbing sensation in my gut, so I went to the emergency room when it became apparent the pain wasn’t going away. I had to wait to see a doctor of course, but then was examined, scanned, and diagnosed. By 5:30 a.m., surgeons were removing my inflamed appendix laparoscopically. By late afternoon I was home watching Mafia flicks and enjoying the benefits of an oxycodone prescription. By Wednesday, I was back at work.
Say what you want about our nation’s screwed-up healthcare system, but that isn’t bad. Sure, I have health insurance, but so do 93 percent of Californians. The 7 percent who aren’t covered should receive the same emergency treatment as anyone else, given that hospitals can’t deny emergency service based on an inability to pay. After scanning the waiting room at the downtown Sacramento ER that night, I’d say it’s a safe bet most of the people there had no insurance and weren’t about to pay by credit card.
America’s healthcare system is no model of free enterprise, of course. It’s heavily controlled by government regulations. Myriad state and federal subsidies distort the prices. Because third parties (insurers and government) foot most of the bill, no one shops around for the best deal even on elective procedures. The cost of Tuesday’s surgery will probably remain a mystery to me. Blue Cross bean-counters will determine what I owe and I’ll pay it after being inundated with incomprehensible forms and bills. End of story.
This inefficient mixed-market system could use various competitive reforms, but it works decently for most people most of the time. Nevertheless, it is the prime target for leftists with grandiose dreams of something better. They promote various incremental plans such as “Medicare for all,” but we know what they really want: A government-controlled single-payer system of “free” healthcare with taxpayers footing the entire bill.
In a word, they want medical socialism. They’re not swayed by data about people in Britain and Canada waiting months and even years to get surgeries people in the United States can schedule right away. They’re not concerned about the rationing of care, the multitrillion-dollar budget costs, or the stifling of innovation. Who is going to invest in clever medical devices (like those laparoscopic tools that spared me a big incision) or life-saving drugs if there’s no possible windfall? If you say “government,” then you haven’t been watching the Chernobyl miniseries.
Leftists tout an idealized version of the Scandinavian model, ignoring the scarcity problems that plague healthcare in those countries. They ignore other obvious points, too. The United States is a huge multicultural and individualistic society that’s not at all like homogenous Norway or Finland. People there are more apt to follow edicts and wait in lines, less willing to file lawsuits, complain, and protest. Single-payer advocates should look closer to home for a sense of what we’ll get, such as the disastrous Veterans Administration hospital system.
California Democrats never addressed these concerns when they passed a bill to create a single-payer healthcare system that would replace all private insurance in the state. The Senate’s own analysis pegged the costs at $400 billion, which is twice the state’s total budget. And you know how government price estimates go. The eastern span of the Bay Bridge was completed a few years ago at a mere 2,500 percent over budget. I’d guess that $400 billion is only the down-payment.
The state Senate plan would have provided any needed healthcare service to anyone who made it into the state, regardless of their home state or country. Gov. Gavin Newsom raised eyebrows recently for encouraging women from conservative states to come to California to have an abortion — a ghastly version of medical tourism. But imagine how many “tourists” will flock to California under the scenario devised by the Senate. Then again, those free treatments might not look so great if you’re stuck waiting 10 years to get them.
That largely symbolic single-payer bill ultimately died in the Assembly, but every Democratic leader, including the new governor, has paid homage to the concept of single payer. That means that they would endanger a healthcare system that works tolerably well for 93 percent of the public in the hopes of improving it for that 7 percent who lack health insurance. That’s nuts, but I still remember when promising socialized medicine was the kiss of death for a politician. Now it’s the kiss of death in California to not promote socialized everything.
At the California Democratic Party convention last weekend in San Francisco, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested that, “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.” His seemingly uncontroversial words were met with a loud chorus of boos. Maryland Rep. John Delaney was booed for a full minute after he criticized “Medicare for all.”
If only we had a socialized system, everything apparently would be well. Just ask the Venezuelans. I would have gone to the emergency room with that stabbing pain and the surgery wouldn’t have cost me a dime. Then again, I’d probably still be waiting for the treatment or would already have died in the process, so socialism might have a couple of down sides.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.