At the recent unveiling of his latest plan for “Medicare for All,” Mon. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., evoked a familiar theme. “Health care,” he said, “is a human right that all Americans, regardless of income, are entitled to.”
But health care is neither a right nor a privilege.
Health care is an aggregate of goods and services. The task of health policy is to ensure timely, affordable access to these goods and services for all who need them — and to do so without sacrificing the quality of care.
Medicare for All would outlaw private health insurance and grant everyone a right to public coverage. All Americans would have an insurance card with their name on it. But as real-world evidence from Medicare for All-like systems abroad makes clear, access to coverage is not the same as access to care.
That’s because there’s a limited supply of health care, just like any other good or service. Unlimited demand — fueled by Medicare for All’s promise that care will be free at the point of delivery — paired with limited supply is a recipe for shortages, long waits and suffering far worse than anything Americans see under our current system.
Great Britain’s National Health Service, the single-payer system established in 1948, has subjected patients to life-threatening treatment delays and subpar care for generations. And that crisis has grown only more acute in recent years.
According to a report released in May, a record-high 6.4 million patients in England were waiting for care. A separate study released May 31 by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine found that a lack of capacity in NHS emergency rooms was causing “real patient harm” and was a “serious patient safety crisis.”
In Canada, the situation is much the same. The typical wait time for Canadian patients