Hollywood loves a sequel. This summer, studios are releasing a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, a third edition of the Despicable Me franchise, and yet another Spiderman.
But warmed-over ideas are not the sole province of the film industry. Progressive lawmakers are launching a reboot of their own — Single-Payer Health Care: A Future We Can Believe In.
The trailer promises a futuristic, universal health-care system without premiums, deductibles or copays. But this feature is sure to flop. Single-payer’s previous runs have been horror shows, with billions of dollars in cost over-runs and patients waiting helplessly for necessary care.
Still, lawmakers across the country are vying to be the first to establish a single-payer system.
The California state Senate just passed the Healthy California Act, which would effectively abolish private health coverage and enroll all residents — including those on Medicare, employer-sponsored insurance, and Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, as well as illegal immigrants — in a single-payer system. Washington state senator Maralyn Chase is drafting a similar proposal.
In May, New York’s state Assembly passed a bill that would establish a single-payer system in the Empire State. And a single-payer plan introduced by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., now has more than 100 co-sponsors.
These would-be single-payer moguls don’t know it, but their bills would destroy the health-care system and the economy.
Consider the California bill. An analysis by the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee found that the measure would cost $400 billion annually. That’s more than three times the state’s annual budget of $125 billion.
The state would fund its plan by raiding taxpayers’ wallets. The Appropriations Committee calculated that it would take a new 15 percent payroll tax to come up with half that tab. To come up with the other half, the state would have to get permission from the federal government to repurpose $200 billion in existing funding intended for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, in New York, single-payer could cost as much as $226 billion in 2019 and destroy 175,000 local jobs, as companies flee to other states. The state’s entire revenue take is projected to be just $82 billion.
Rep. Conyers’ plan would require a similarly lavish budget. The bill would increase taxes on high-income earners by 5 percentage points. It would also impose new payroll and capital gains taxes.
Those crippling taxes are among the reasons that even liberal voters have panned previous attempts to impose single-payer.
Colorado voters rejected a single-payer proposal at the ballot box last November by an 80-20 margin. The plan would have subjected residents to an additional 10 percent payroll tax. The proposal was so fiscally irresponsible that even Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t back it.
Vermont’s dalliance with single-payer was also short-lived. In 2011, the state legislature approved a single-payer plan. But economists found that it would have cost $4.3 billion annually — and thus consumed nearly the entire state budget. Covering these extra expenses would have required an 11.5 percent payroll tax and an additional 9 percent individual income tax.
Former Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat and former single-payer proponent, ultimately scrapped the plan, deeming it too expensive.
Single-payer systems aren’t just unaffordable. They deliver atrocious care.
In Canada’s single-payer system, patients wait weeks for medical attention. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, the median patient waits 20 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment from a specialist. A 2014 study of 11 industrialized countries ranked Canada dead last in timeliness of care.
Consequently, many Canadians have to leave the country to get the care they need. In 2014, more than 52,000 Canadians received non-emergency medical treatment outside of Canada. In recent years, local health officials have authorized more than $100 million in spending to send Ontario patients waiting for critical transplants to U.S. hospitals.
In the United Kingdom’s government-run system, patients aren’t faring any better. In 2015, more than 130,000 patients did not receive timely cancer care. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of available hospital beds declined 20 percent.
Single-payer systems have consistently received poor reviews from those trapped in them. Once American audiences realize that, they’ll give progressive lawmakers’ pitches for single-payer a big thumbs-down.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CE, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in health care policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The Way Out of Obamacare (Encounter 2016). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.