Our No. 1 objective in dealing with the coronavirus should be working together to protect the health and safety of our fellow citizens. This requires the private sector to work together with all levels of government and academia to calmly and objectively address this challenge. This cannot be a time for opportunistic politicking, even as we know some will push for pet projects in emergency legislation. We can work on the same team against this disease - we've successfully fought pandemics before, and we can do it again.
A friend of mine who lives in New Jersey tested positive for the coronavirus. He was in the hospital for pneumonia and ended up in the intensive care unit. He is doing better. When I spoke with him the other night, his first words were, “thank God we live in America where we have access to great healthcare.” And then he said, “thank God we don’t have a government-run healthcare system.”
Even former Vice President Joe Biden pushed back on the ridiculous idea that “Medicare for All” would be better under the current crisis. "With all due respect to Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy," he stated during a Democratic presidential debate, noting the problems being faced by Italy in dealing with the coronavirus. For once, Biden was right.
Unfortunately, some Democrats in the House and Senate are using the current situation as an excuse to advocate for a federal government takeover of our healthcare system in their so-called “Medicare for all” plan. They could not be more wrong.
Expanding Medicare to every American will not work. Here is why: there are more than 327 million people in the United States, yet less than 60 million of them are covered under Medicare. The current system only pays hospitals and medical professionals for every dollar of care provided to patients under Medicare. Therefore, the rest is covered by those of us with private health insurance.
If everyone was on government-run healthcare, all of the healthcare providers would be paid less. Under those circumstances, healthcare systems would likely have to reduce access to or the quality of healthcare.
That could lead to long waits, dangerous delays and even rationing of care for the elderly and for people with disabilities. These are the same people who are the most vulnerable to exposure to the coronavirus. This is already happening in Italy. Medicare-for-all might sound good until faced with the reality that some may not get access to the level of medical attention they expect under a new system.
Advocates of government-run healthcare will argue that a reduction in costs will be made as providers reduce their administrative workload. The opposite is likely to occur as the government already requires ridiculous amounts of paperwork and record keeping. Think about all of the forms in the Internal Revenue Service (I spent the last three days trying to get a live person on the line at the IRS). Then think of all the hassle at the Department of Motor Vehicles (there always seems to be some new form required at the DMV). Now remember how long you have to wait in line or wait on the phone with government agencies. Doesn’t sound very appealing when it comes to healthcare. Particularly not now.
Are there problems with the current system? Absolutely. The answer, however, is not more government and bureaucracy. It is less.
Too much of the current healthcare system is driven by government bureaucracy within Medicare and Medicaid - and by bureaucracy within the industry (which is highly regulated and restricted by the government). There are more efficient and cost effective ways to provide healthcare. Americans deserve better.
Think of your cell phone. Most of us know more about our phone plan than we do about our healthcare plan. Having choices in the private sector allows us to pick the best plan for ourselves and for our families. The same can be true in healthcare.
One area where the government can help is transparency. The more we know about cost and quality, the better choice we will make for ourselves and our families.
Years ago, my elderly neighbor was in for a heart problem and he asked the hospital staff how much the procedure would cost. They told him not to worry as it was covered under Medicare. As a taxpayer, he wanted to know the cost. Two days later, they finally came up with a number. Transparency is key if we are going to have a people-centered healthcare system that treats patients like human beings and not just statistics. Americans deserve better.
The other area where the government can help is with the truly needy. As Governor of Wisconsin, I was proud that we were the only state in the top 10 for coverage that did not take the Obamacare expansion. We found a way to ensure that everyone living in poverty was covered by Medicaid. Everyone else was covered in the private marketplace. According to the Kaiser Foundation, we had no gap in coverage. We also saw a reduction in health insurance rates. Our efforts helped the private market mitigate risks and control costs.
There are real problems with the current healthcare system, but the answer is not more intervention by the federal government, it is less. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can truly address access, quality and cost of healthcare in America. Until then, let's keep working together to address the coronavirus crisis. We can do it.
Scott Walker was the 45th Governor of Wisconsin. He is a senior advisor to the National Taxpayers Union.