As the 2018 elections come closer, expect to hear more and more from Democrat candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Socialist candidates like ‘Independent’ Bernie Sanders about the beauty of a single-payer healthcare system. It’s a favorite Democrat talking point during election time, and it’s an easy sell to their base who routinely demand that they are afforded things at others’ expense.
However, all this talk of the utopian wonders of single-payer healthcare leaves out the realities of such a system. These are realities that England experienced anew as the British National Health Service ordered the cancellation of 50,000 ‘non-essential’ surgeries.
The National Health Service mandated its order early Tuesday, January 2, 2018, as hospitals across the country struggled to meet medical demands related to an outbreak of the winter flu. According to witness accounts, English hospitals were overwhelmed, with some patients forced to wait for up to twelve hours to receive medical care. Furthermore, as seating in the waiting rooms filled, some patients were forced to stand.
One doctor claimed to be providing ‘battlefield medicine’ to patients suffering flu symptoms, and other doctors pointed out that the hospitals were providing ‘third-world conditions’ as the staff became unable to cope with the demand for their services. Eventually, the only thing that the NHS could conceive of was to cancel surgeries and reassign the manpower to other functions.
Theresa May, the current British Prime Minister, made a statement on Thursday, saying “I know it’s difficult, I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s disappointing for people and I apologize,” as she went to a London-area hospital and visited patients languishing there while waiting for their appointments.
Britain’s National Healthcare Service and the system that it oversees rarely performs well. Hospitals are short-staffed, under-equipped, and lagging behind other nations. Britain’s cancer survival rates are atrocious, and often on par with third-world countries and former Soviet satellite states. In general, their hospitals are in poor condition, and many of their most talented medical professionals flee to the United States or elsewhere.
It’s shocking to see how little the United Kingdom is able to get out of a healthcare system that they spend a third of their budget on every year. Apparently, one-third of Britain’s annual budget only buys them a single-payer healthcare system that is on par with Chile and Poland when it comes to cancer outcomes.
Single-payer is not some utopian healthcare system; quite the contrary, it kills healthcare systems. There’s a reason that the United States produces the vast majority of all new procedures, medications, and other medical innovations in any given year. In socialist and communist nations, cash-strapped healthcare systems are barely capable of meeting the demands for actual healthcare, let alone expanding the world’s medical knowledge base.
Those 50,000 patients whose procedures were just suddenly canceled have no recourse but to wait until the government can give them another appointment. This means that people waiting for life-saving and important procedures may be waiting for weeks, or even months, until the National Health Service can find a new time slot for them.
Another interesting problem that arrives from single-payer healthcare systems is that people, especially those prone to hypochondria, no longer feel the need to be responsible about the care that they seek. When they have to pay the bill, they’re less likely to run to the hospital with a cold or the flu (both of which, in most cases, the hospital can do little about).
In other words, when people have to pay for healthcare, even if it is only a modest amount, they tend to be better stewards of that access. They think more about whether or not they actually need health care, or if they just have something minor wrong with them.
If American citizens doubt that single-payer systems are generally awful, they can look at the Department of Veteran Affairs here in the United States to see how easily such a system can fail. Compounding that failure, the VA has a very limited set of illnesses it treats, for a very specific subset of American citizens, and it still cannot manage to function.
Two states in the United States have recently considered single-payer healthcare systems. Vermont, Bernie Sanders’ home state, considered operating their own single-payer healthcare system but abandoned the plan when it became obvious the expense would be too great. California, never one to balk at absurd spending, is still attempting to make such a plan work, even after finding out that at best, a single-payer system in California would double the state’s annual budget.
Single-payer healthcare is not a utopia, despite what Bernie ‘I think bread lines are great’ Sanders may say. It’s a quick way to destroy a healthcare system to the point where a minor illness like the flu can cause the system to grind to a halt.
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