By Sally C. Pipes
Fully government-run health care may be coming to the Empire State.
The State Senate will soon consider the New York Health Act, a bill that would sweep every New Yorker into a single, government-funded health plan. The Assembly green-lit the bill in mid-May.
On paper, the measure seems like a gift. State residents would have access to any doctor or hospital in the state, without a copay or deductible.
But as patients in single-payer systems abroad know all too well, “free health care for all” turns out to be anything but. Time and again, government-run health insurance schemes have proven inordinately expensive – and have delivered rationed, low-quality care. New York’s proposed single-payer system would fare no differently.
Under the New York Health Act, those who enjoy their current plan – whether it’s employer-based insurance, an individual plan or even a Medicare Advantage policy – would have that coverage taken away and replaced with a plan controlled by Albany.
This new government-run insurance scheme wouldn’t be free. It would cost an estimated $91 billion a year, according to University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Gerald Friedman. A tax hike that big would have disastrous effects on the state economy. Employers and individuals would surely flee to states with less onerous tax burdens.
Even if a single-payer system didn’t come with an economic death sentence, it would remain a bad deal for New Yorkers. Proponents of single-payer health care claim that a payer the size of the government can hold down costs by negotiating better prices with providers. In practice, the government just underpays doctors and hospitals to conserve state funds.
Lower reimbursement rates may cause doctors, particularly the most skilled ones, to leave the state. Why stick around New York if they can make more money just across the state border?
Meanwhile, if reimbursements are lower than the operating costs of hospitals and clinics, they’ll surely be forced to close. Fewer doctors and hospitals will create shortages of care – and long wait times – for New Yorkers.
Under the single-payer system in my native Canada, the median patient must wait more than nine weeks between referral from a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. That patient must then wait another 10.6 weeks to actually receive treatment. That wait is three weeks longer than what physicians say is clinically “reasonable.”
It’s no surprise that Canadians often rely on America’s health care system to receive the care they need. In recent years, Ontario hospitals have paid to send patients to Buffalo for treatment – knowing that they would have died waiting for care in Canada.
Such horror stories are what New Yorkers have to look forward to if Albany’s single-payer dreams become a reality.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The Way Out of Obamacare.”