Do you really want a single-payer health system?

November 3, 2011

In the United States, monkeys get root canals; in England, where the National Health Service serves as the single payer for health care, children with tooth aches are effectively told to get lost.

Such was the case for then five-year-old Finn McEwan-Paterson of Wilmslow, England, who – as detailed in Shattered Lives: 100 Victims of Government Health Care (2011) by the National Center for Public Policy Research – was told in January 2006 that he would have to wait six months to have two painful teeth pulled. After being turned away at numerous dental clinics and emergency rooms, Finn’s mother finally went to the media. The ensuing public outrage finally prompted NHS to get help for the boy in April, but not until after young Finn had suffered agonizing pain for nearly four months.

Yesterday, in a speech to the National Health Care Caucus in Washington, D.C., Presidential candidate Herman Cain noted that our nation has “the best health care system in the world” as he recounted his own experience in 2006 with stage four cancer of the liver and colon, saying he is alive today because of the immediate, high-quality care he received. “I was finished with two rounds of chemotherapy and two surgeries in nine months — less than the time it would take to get a CT scan in countries with socialized health care systems.”

He is not exaggerating. In Canada, four-year-old Ryan Olford was put on a two-and-a-half-year waiting list – just to get an MRI scan. Doctors wanted Ryan to have the MRI to ensure that cancer that required removal of one kidney had not spread to the other. Fortunately, thanks to publicity of their ordeal, another patient gave up his MRI appointment for Ryan, who eventually was deemed healthy.

Shattered Lives is littered with stories of patients throughout England, Canada, Australia and other countries where single payer is the modus operendi, who, just like young Finn, are forced to wait months, years even, for both emergency and basic care. There are stories of mothers giving birth in dirty hospital bathrooms because no help is available, car-wreck victims being denied care at 14 different hospitals before dying and 12-minute ambulance rides taking three hours. One woman in Canada died from heart disease after waiting three years for heart surgery. In the United States, the average waiting time for a heart transplant is six months to three years; In Canada, some patients can’t even get heart surgery for three years!

These stories are merely the tip of the iceberg, and it is only getting worse. In England, where as many as 1 million people are on waiting lists for care, waiting times are actually increasing. Why? Because rationing of care is the natural effect of a system that has limited resources at its disposal.

Government-financed health systems are really taxpayer-financed systems, and taxpayers can only bear so much. As Chief Justice John Marshall noted in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), "An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation."

In other words, at some point, a government can only take so much from taxpayers without irreparably harming citizens, and by extension, the economy. Medical costs continue to rise, increasing more than 600 percent between 1965 and 2005.

So what happens when a government, faced with an inability to coerce more money from taxpayers without harming the economy, needs to pay your medical bills, which get more expensive with each passing year?

The government tells you to “get lost.”