New York Democrats hope that 2021 is the year socialized medicine finally arrives in the Empire State. Senator Gustavo Rivera, the chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, is reportedly planning to introduce the New York Health Act, which would ban private insurance and force all New Yorkers onto a government-run healthcare plan.
State lawmakers have tried and failed to advance the bill on several occasions. But Rivera, its lead sponsor, believes that this time could be different, with a friendly administration in Washington.
New Yorkers should watch the goings-on in Albany carefully. A government takeover of the state’s health insurance system would be extraordinarily costly and force patients to endure lengthy waits for care. It’s the last thing the state should contemplate in the midst of an historic public health crisis.
The legislation’s supporters see things differently. From their perspective, Covid-19 has made it more important than ever for the government to guarantee health coverage by providing it directly.
Rivera points to many of his low-income constituents in the Bronx, who are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic conditions than other New Yorkers. That elevated their risk of serious illness or death at the hands of the coronavirus.
Rivera says that under a single-payer system, these populations would’ve had better access to health care—and thus, would’ve been less susceptible to the virus’s ravages.
But this argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Low-income Americans already have access to government health care through Medicaid. More than 40% of Bronx residents are on Medicaid—more than double the share nationwide. Blaming the suffering of low-income people on the absence of government-provided insurance makes little sense.
Further, a government takeover of the state’s health insurance system won’t improve access to care. It’ll do just the opposite. A recent analysis of multiple single-payer proposals from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that demand for care inevitably outstrips supply under such schemes. Long waits are the result.
Look at Canada’s single-payer system. Our northern neighbors wait a median of 22 weeks between referral by a primary care doctor and receipt of treatment from a specialist.
Or consider the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. More than 4.5 million people are currently on waiting lists for treatment in England, including almost 225,000 who have not been seen in more than a year. Experts predict that it could take years to clear the backlog.
The New York Health Act would deliver dismal results like these at massive expense. A 2017 analysis from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity estimated that the bill would require tax increases totaling $226 billion in its first year alone. That’s nearly triple the amount the state collected in taxes and fees in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Multiplying the state’s tax burden as the economy recovers from the pandemic would be bad policy. The state is already losing residents. Many of the state’s wealthiest have fled to less heavily-taxed locales during the crisis, sapping billions from New York’s tax base.
New York City alone lost more than half a million jobs in 2020. Higher taxes won’t bring them back.
If New York’s leaders ultimately blanch at single-payer’s hefty price tag, they’ll be in good company. A government-run system proved too costly even for Vermont’s far-left political leaders. In 2011, then Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law that would’ve created the first state-level single-payer system in the country. But by 2014, he’d abandoned the effort because the inevitable tax hikes “might hurt our economy.”
California has regularly entertained the idea of government-run health care in recent years. Lawmakers in the Golden State have begun yet another push for single-payer this year. But historically, cost has proven an insurmountable barrier. Four years ago, an analysis conducted by the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee found that single-payer would cost twice as much as the entire state budget.
At a time of tremendous economic uncertainty, a government monopoly on health insurance would financially cripple the state. New York’s leaders should learn from their past failures—and refrain from restarting their misguided quests for single-payer.