Editorial: With single-payer health care, everybody will have to pay

Ronald Reagan was right in 1964 when he said “We can’t socialize the doctors without socializing the patients.” Unfortunately, Sen. Barack Obama still hasn’t learned that lesson. That means millions of Obama enthusiasts are in for a nasty post-November surprise when they eventually find themselves trapped in long lines.

We know this because at a campaign event Monday, Obama said: “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.”

A “single-payer system” is Washington bureaucratese for a system in which the federal government uses tax dollars to pay for health care and to regulate how it is delivered, when it is delivered, by whom and to whom.

Obama then stressed that he is not endorsing a single-payer system for the short term.

“You’ve got a whole system of institutions that have been set up,” he said. “Making that transition in a rapid way I think would be very difficult.”

But he went on to say his plan could be used as an intermediate step toward a fully socialized system. In 2003, he was more explicit, saying flat-out that he is a “proponent of a single-payer health care program … [but] first we [Democrats] have to take back the White House.”

Serious problems in single-payer systems in Europe and Canada have been well documented. Innovative new drugs in Europe, for instance, take far longer to reach the public than they do in the United States — six months longer for cancer drugs and up to 24 months for other medicines.

A 2007 Frasier Institute study showed delays in Canada are even worse, and thousands of Canadians head south to the United States when they need care quickly. In Great Britain, stories are legion about months-long waits for lifesaving surgeries. And in July of last year, the Daily Mail featured a story about a 108-year-old woman who was told she must wait 18 months for a new hearing aid.

Conversely, when consumers choose their doctors and health care insurance from among private doctors and companies, costs and access improve because providers must satisfy patients, not bureaucrats. The otherwise-problematic Medicare prescription-drug program, for instance, at least requires private insurance companies to compete for patient participation. Result: In the first two years, average premium costs were less than $24 per month, far better than the $37 predicted by Congress.

A system with multiple private, independent payers and providers, not socialized medicine, is the best way to assure people get the care they need.

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