Conceptually, single-payer is imbued with many myths and misconceptions.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 31 – No 08 – August 2012
Myth #1: Single-Payer Is One-Size-Fits-All
The No. 1 myth – the alpha myth – is that single-payer represents a choiceless, one-size-fits-all, government-run health care monopsony. This is a blatant falsehood. Single-payer is simply a more efficient and more equitable way of financing health care – and nothing more. By consolidating the administrative functions of insurance, it eliminates bureaucratic duplication and reduces administrative waste, saving time and money for employers, providers, state governments, and consumers alike. It would remove the profit motive from financing care, but not from delivering it. Single-payer would efficiently provide for all Americans – regardless of age, health condition, income, or employment status – universal health care that is portable, affordable, equitable, nonterminating, publicly accountable, and funded through progressive taxation, which for the average family would imply a small additional payroll tax that is much less than its current outlay for insurance premiums. A single-payer system would not supplant the private practice of medicine; you could go to a primary care doctor, specialist, hospital, pharmacist, and lab of your choice.
Single-payer is the only remaining option to simultaneously and synergistically expand access, control costs, preserve choice, and reduce disparities.
Myth #2: Canadian Health Care Would Be Bad for America
Americans love to repeat anecdotes about the supposedly lousy medical care our northern neighbors receive from their single-payer system, by demoralized and overworked doctors who work at ill-equipped hospitals with out-of-date technology. This is rubbish. Do Canadians often wait for weeks to see a specialist? Yes. Do Americans also wait? Yes. There is no evidence that Canadians are dropping dead in the streets while waiting for their emergency bypasses or appendectomies, nor is there any evidence that Canadian physicians are emigrating to the U.S. or other countries en masse. Further, there is no evidence that the quality of care in Canada, across the board, is inferior to that practiced in the U.S. Despite comparable rates of smoking and alcoholism, Canadians on average live longer than Americans by more than 2 years, and their infant mortality rate is less than ours. Finally, consider this: Canadians spend much less than we do for health care, both in per-capita dollars and as a percent of GDP, so I have no doubt that if we were to adopt a Canadian-style system and fund it to the tune of $2.6 trillion annually, we would not have 9-month waits for MRIs, even if every one of them was clinically indicated.
Myth #3: Market-Based Medicine Trumps Single-Payer
Some argue that our private, market-based system is fundamentally sound, that it should be freed of government regulation and tweaked to promote greater competition based on price, and thus choice of health insurance plans. Really? Does anyone seriously believe that purchasing health care services is fundamentally no different from buying a new car or a flat-screen TV? (If so, I suggest he or she take a course in health economics.) And would anyone seriously believe that Americans want a choice of health insurance, when what they really desire is a choice of doctors and hospitals? What could be more American, more consumer-friendly, and more constitutional than the ability to choose your health care provider based on whatever criteria you deem important? So why not cut out the middleman and let doctors, hospitals, and other providers compete on such things as quality, service, reputation, convenience, and other personal preferences, rather than having private insurers make these choices for us?