Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All Act, introduced last week, outlaws private health insurance. Curiously, not one of the Democratic presidential wannabes crowding around Sanders for photo ops mentioned this alarming fact. If Sanders has his way, 180 million Americans who currently have private coverage would have it ripped away and be automatically enrolled in public insurance. Kids would be enrolled at birth.
"Medicare for All" doesn't just offer government health insurance to the needy. It makes private coverage illegal, including the health plan you get at your job. Employers are prohibited from covering workers, retirees, and their families. (Sec. 107, Sec. 522)
Sanders' bill raises a critical question: If you're seriously ill, will you be able to get the care you need?
Sanders guarantees you hospital care, doctors' visits, dental and vision care, mental health, and even long term care, all courtesy of Uncle Sam. Amazing, right? But read the fine print. You'll get care only if it's "medically necessary" and "appropriate." Government bureaucrats will decide, and they'll be under pressure to cut spending. (Sec. 401)
That's because Sanders' bill imposes a hard and fast dollar limit on how much health care Americans consume in the aggregate each year. (Sec. 601) He makes it sound simple — Uncle Sam will negotiate lower prices with drug companies. Voila. But driving a hard bargain with drug makers won't make a dent in costs. Prescription drugs comprise only 10 percent of the nation's health expenditures.
Limiting costs will necessitate capping how many mammograms, colonoscopies, hip replacements and other procedures Americans are allowed.
That's how single-payer systems work. Britain's National Health Service — the oldest single payer system — is struggling to stay within its current annual spending limit. Patients have to wait 18 weeks just for a referral to a specialist, and routinely wait 15 months for a cataract removal, according to a new Harvard Business Review report.
In Sanders' scheme, regional health authorities will curb "overutilization" of care, just the way British local health authorities manage the skimping. British patients at high risk of colon cancer are waiting as long as 13 weeks for a colonoscopy. Heart patients who could benefit from angioplasty have to settle for "watchful waiting." This month, NHS doctors warned that "a record number of patients could lose their lives if waiting times and bed shortages remain as bad as they already are."
At least in Britain, people are free to buy private insurance and go outside the government system for care. That's also true in most European and Scandinavian countries with universal coverage. But not the Sanders plan. It traps you.
The biggest losers are working people — including union workers — forced out of their "Cadillac" coverage with its generous benefits. They'll be sitting in line for care in crowded clinics next to guys on unemployment.
Progressives like Sanders used to boast they had workers' backs. Now Sanders is bragging that his plan will free people from having to work at all. Literally, he says "Medicare for All" will enable people to "stay home with their children or leave jobs they don't like knowing that they would still have health care coverage." So much for the dignity of work.
Sanders's critics attack the $1.4 trillion yearly price tag on his plan. Even worse is the human cost, especially if you're at risk of cancer.
For many types of cancer, the U.S. has the highest cancer survival rates in the world. Cancer is diagnosed early and treated aggressively. Under Sanders' plan, cancer patients could face deadly delays and no private coverage alternatives.
People who work hard should have the freedom to spend their earnings on the best insurance for their family, if they want. Outlawing that is immoral.
The new leaders of the Democratic Party — including Sanders, Blumenthal, and Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker — don't see it that way. They're letting leftist ideology crush the priorities of everyday people.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.