NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 21, 2008

Advocates of single-payer health plans want the U.S. government to be the only entity that pays for health care: With Uncle Sam picking up the tab, proponents predict health-care spending would be reduced, administrative burdens would be eliminated, and doctors would be free to practice as they wish.

Adding another major program to the federal government will not eliminate administrative headaches and make it easier for doctors.  We need only to look to our neighbors to the north, in Canada, for a clear view of what we could expect under a single-payer system, says Devon Herrick, a health economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The biggest problem is the wait; for office visits, diagnostic tests, lab work, even surgeries.  There are only so many doctors and so much medical equipment in Canada -- that means that most patients can't get the help they need when they need it, explains Herrick:

  • At any given time, nearly 750,000 Canadians are waiting for a medical procedure.
  • According to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, 42 percent of Canadians with chronic illnesses said they had to wait more than two months to see a specialist.

Another major problem faced by those in a single-payer system is the health risk that is faced by participants, says Herrick:

  • A recent study by the Fraser Institute indicates that much of the health technology in Canada is aging and outdated. Such equipment has a higher risk of failing, may be less accurate, and may not provide the most up-to-date medical readings.
  • As consumers, all we want is health care that is reasonably priced, of high quality and that is convenient -- without having to wait months on end for needed surgery.

Many of us already have had experiences with limited access to health care -- through HMOs.  Such plans tried to control health costs by controlling which doctors patients could see, limiting the specialists that one can visit, and reducing the options that were available.  It didn't catch on because few Americans like limited health-care options.  We want to make our own choices, based on what's best for our health and our wallet, says Herrick.

Instead of wasting time on a system that limits our choices, creates long waiting times, and has the potential to jeopardize our health, the United States should opt for a system of innovation and choice, explains Herrick.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Americans want free choice in health care," Tallahassee Democrat, November 21, 2008.  


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