Healthcare is a hot button issue across the U.S., especially since many politicians have made it an integral part of their platforms. In particular, many have begun touting that a single-payer system is the answer to the healthcare problem in the United States, instead of private insurance.
A single-payer system would mean that a single public agency would take control of providing healthcare for all of the residents of the United States. Everyone would share the same health insurance plan; though they ultimately would not be able to choose which providers they visited. While this may seem like the answer to healthcare inequality, there are a few fundamental issues with this plan, and its implementation would ultimately create more problems than it solves.
Barriers to Care
The United States is a leader in innovative medicine, providing some of the most novel treatments and quick access to life-saving treatments. If a single-payer healthcare system is adopted, there may be more barriers to this life-saving care.
In countries like Canada and the UK, places with a single-payer system, there are extremely long wait times for specialized (and much needed) treatments. For instance, if you need surgery, you may be put on a waitlist and the surgery may be delayed for as long as 8 months. According to a study conducted by the Fraser Institute, in Canada there is an average 21.2 week wait time between a general practitioner referral and the time a patient actually is seen by a specialist. This wait time could be deadly.
Long wait times won’t be the only area that your medical care will suffer, you may also receive less quality care. Without competition, innovative medical treatment will most likely take a nosedive. Currently, medical professionals are driven to possess the latest and greatest in scientific and technological advancements. If being the best in the field, and providing the most innovative treatment no longer impacts a medical professional’s bottom line, chances are there will be less access to innovative treatment. Not to mention, the government may decide that certain treatments are not cost-effective, which could essentially eliminate access to potentially useful treatment options.
You May Pay More
The truth is that the money for a single-payer system will have to come from somewhere. That somewhere is taxes. Single residents and families can expect a large increase in taxes. The shift would also massively increase government spending. The Urban Institute estimated this cost to be $32 trillion over the next ten years. This kind of increase would mean less funding would be geared towards other important government-funded programs, such as education and infrastructure.
Beyond this, if you or your family had special medical concerns, and wished to opt-out so you could receive better care, you would still be required to contribute to the single-payer system. Meaning you would be paying twice for your health insurance. And that’s only if opting out would even be an option. It is possible that substitute insurance would be prohibited.
Medical Professional Shortage
Already in the United States, there is a shortage of medical professionals. The aging population is growing rapidly. A study by AAMC forecasts that today's physician deficit of 20,000 will expand to a deficit of as many as 122,000 by 2032. This increase in needed physicians is without a single-payer system. Now, imagine if we implemented a single-payer system where physician salaries are controlled by the government. This will likely result in fewer talented people seeking to join the medical profession, instead seeking a more lucrative career. This spells bad news for our aging population, who will not have access to the quality care they need. There should be efforts to encourage new talent into medicine, not efforts to discourage people from entering into the field.
While the idea of a single payer system seems to have benefits, ultimately the cons outweigh these benefits. Quality medical care that is available when people need it should not be sacrificed in order to provide government healthcare. Changes to American healthcare may be needed, but single-payer healthcare most likely is not the answer to the problems within the system.