NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 23, 2005

The American health care system is not perfect, but adopting a single-payer system like Canada's would come with significant costs, says Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

Moreover, the idealism of national health insurance has not been able to succeed in the real world. Since every citizen is "guaranteed" the right to health care, national health care systems must ration its availability to control costs, explains Jacoby.

In ''Lives at Risk,'' a book published last summer by the National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA president John Goodman and two coauthors, Gerald Musgrave and Devon Herrick, showed that a single-payer system, far from proving a panacea, would make American health care much worse than it is:

  • About 25 percent of patients undergoing elective surgery in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and around 36 percent in Britain, have to wait more than four months; in the United States that figure is 5 percent.
  • The average Canadian patient waited 8.3 weeks for an appointment with a specialist in 2003, and another 9.5 weeks before getting treated.
  • Lengthy waits have resulted in unnecessary deaths: in Britain, for example, delays for colon cancer treatment are so protracted that 20 percent of cases considered curable at the time of diagnosis are incurable by the time of treatment.

"Wherever single-payer health care systems have been tried," writes Goodman, ''rationing by waiting is pervasive, putting patients at risk and keeping them in pain.''

Ultimately, socialized medicine guarantees only the right to stand in line often and to get sicker while you wait, says Jacoby.

Source: Jeff Jacoby, "National Health Insurance: The Wrong Rx," Boston Globe, March 22, 2005; and John Goodman, Devon Herrick and Gerald Musgrave, "Lives At Risk," National Center for Policy Analysis, July 2001.

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