CASE Op-Ed: To improve health care, look to the free market, not a single-payer
Matt Kandrach – President, CASE
February 9, 2018 – bit.ly/2EReVGH
In today’s partisan environment, there is bipartisan agreement over one thing: Our health-care system needs big reforms to bring down costs and improve access to care. The question is how do we change it? It’s clear the current system isn’t perfect, but that shouldn’t be an invitation for a single-payer government system like they have in the United Kingdom.
Instead, now is the time for the Trump administration to double-down on market-based reforms, which will inject real competition into the marketplace, improve quality of care, and ultimately drive down costs.
When President Trump tweetedearlier this week that the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain provides “really bad and non-personal medical care,” progressive activists were enraged. It was, of course, an attack on many Congressional Democrats who are pushing for universal health care.
And it’s an idea that, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act and the problems it has created, 65 percent of Democratic voters support.
But the president is absolutely correct. A single-payer system — in which government bureaucrats rather than patients make individual health-care decisions — means a country is left with something that more closely resembles the post office, with long wait times and limited services.
This winter’s serious flu epidemic is a perfect example of why we should absolutely reject any movement towards a single-payer system, and should instead insist on policies that allow for greater choice and competition in health care.
The recent uptick in sick patients in the U.K. has further overwhelmed an already crippled system. The additional strain of the flu means that, for example, more than 55,000 ‘nonessential operations’ — including hip replacements and cataract surgeries — have been suspended to deal with the influx of patients.
And, of course, it’s not just during flu season that the British people suffer from rationed care. For years, breakthrough drugs to address Hepatitis C or HIV were declined by the NHS, despite the fact that those same treatments have been available in the United States. What’s more, staff shortages are a real challenge for the NHS.
The British have been losing health-care workers for a long time due to poor pay incentives; now the threat that there won’t be a future in health care has caused a hemorrhaging of staff, who are moving abroad for better opportunities. Despite the defensive pose many in the U.K. took following the president’s attack, there’s no doubt many worry about their health care woes.
In fact, overcrowded waiting rooms and the concern that high populations of immigrants are further burdening the system played a real role in Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union back in 2016.
Let all of this be a lesson to Americans. Repealing and replacing Obamacare is still an important goal; but we don’t need a big piece of legislation to start moving toward a freer, more competitive health-care market. In fact, Congress and the Trump administration have already taken important steps, including terminating the individual mandate, discussing the elimination of Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), removing regulatory barriers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to streamline the generic approval process, and taking steps to ensure manufacturer-negotiated discounts get shared with patients at the pharmacy counter.
All of these reforms are reining in government, increasing competition, improving quality of care, and bringing down costs for consumers. What’s clear is that substantive health-care reform requires less government interference so that patients have more ownership and control over their health-care dollars and choices.
Universal health coverage proponents may paint a rosy picture, but in reality it is a system that poses a real danger to consumers. The U.K. system has shown us that a nationalized health system is not the answer.
To reverse the damaging effects of the Affordable Care Act, the last thing we should do is consider single-payer health care that will surely make our system worse. The real answer to better care is a market system that puts patients and not government in charge.
Matthew Kandrach is the president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization.