Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous currently trails Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republican incumbent, in the polls. But the challenger has a plan to turn the tide.
Jealous has released a detailed proposal to enroll most state residents in MD-Care, a government-run health insurance plan that would “eliminate co-pays, high-deductibles, and other out-of-pocket barriers to coverage.” He hopes his “Medicare-for-All”-style reform will win over voters worried about rising health care costs.
That’s a risky bet. Single-payer health care would require massive tax hikes and result in poor quality care. Numerous other blue states have considered but ultimately rejected single-payer proposals for those exact reasons.
Marylanders would be wise to follow suit.
MD-Care would be enormously expensive. Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services estimates the plan would raise state government expenditures by $24 billion each year. That’s a 55 percent increase over the state’s current operating budget of $44 billion.
And that estimate is generous. It assumes the federal government would give Annapolis the money currently spent on the state’s Medicare and Medicaid enrollees. It’s highly unlikely the Trump administration would aid and abet any single-payer scheme.
Even if the federal government cooperates, Maryland’s taxpayers would still have to fork over a lot more of their hard-earned wages to the government. The Department of Legislative Services estimates the state would have to impose a 10 percent payroll tax on all businesses and an additional $2,800 fee per individual.
Other states have been entranced by single-payer — but balked once they got a look at the price tag. California’s State Assembly shelved a single-payer bill last year passed by the state Senate over concerns about its $400 billion cost. That figure is double California’s entire budget.
Nearly 80 percent of Colorado voters rejected a single-payer ballot referendum in 2016. The proposed system would have required $25 billion in annual payroll taxes — and still would have run an $8 billion annual deficit within a decade.
Vermont — home state of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the pied piper of single-payer — nixed a single-payer plan in 2014 after an analysis showed it would require huge tax hikes. Then-Gov. Peter Shumlin, a supporter of single-payer, ultimately conceded, “The potential economic disruption and risks would be too great to small businesses, working families and the state’s economy.”
Back in Maryland, nominee Ben Jealous claims his proposal would “ensure that everyone has quality health care.” That’s an impossible promise to keep.
The single-payer systems in Canada and the United Kingdom “guarantee” care to all patients. But they don’t actually deliver. Canadians and Britons frequently wait weeks or months for medically necessary treatment.
These long waits aren’t aberrations. They’re par for the course in government-run health systems. When doctor’s visits and hospital stays are “free,” patients have no incentive to regulate their use of medical services. The only way for the government to control costs is to ration care.
More than 1 million Canadians were on waitlists at the end of last year, according to a report from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. Last year, the median wait for treatment from a specialist was more than 21 weeks after referral from a general practitioner. Wait times have more than doubled since 1993.
It’s no wonder that more than 63,000 Canadians went abroad for medical treatment in 2016.
All these people pay thousands of dollars in taxes for a system they can’t afford to use. Indeed, the typical family of four pays nearly $13,000 in taxes to fund the Canadian public health care system.
In the United Kingdom, the 70-year-old government-run National Health Service suffers from chronic shortages of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds. These shortages have led to record long wait times for patients. This winter, the NHS canceled 50,000 surgeries to ease hospital crowding.
If MD-Care were to become law, Marylanders would pay thousands of dollars in new taxes — and receive substandard care in return. They’ll have the chance to reject that proposed deal at the ballot box this November.
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 False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care.” Follow her on Twitter: