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Democrats' single-payer health-care dream just became a nightmare

  • A new study by the California State Senate shows that single payer health care would cost more than the entire current state budget.
  • That means everything else that Californians want from their government would have to take a backseat to health care.
  • Hopefully, this report will start to make our national health care debate more economically realistic.
Participants in the Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles, California on February 4, 2017.
Ronen Tivony | NurPhoto | Getty Images
Participants in the Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles, California on February 4, 2017.

Maybe we should rename so-called single payer health care and call it "single slayer."

Because as the politicians in California just found out, providing government paid-for health care isn't just expensive, it's more expensive than everything else... combined.

That's what a new study done by California's state senate determined this week. Here are the very ugly numbers:

Okay, that "TILT!" part wasn't officially a mathematical or economic term. But you get the idea. Even with the $200 billion California currently gets from federal and other sources for its health costs, the state would still have to more than double its entire budget to cover the additional costs of providing universal health care.

The study tried to be a bit more optimistic, noting that private employers currently pay between $100 and $150 billion per year to provide health insurance for their workers and hypothesizing that money "could" be made available to the single payer plan. But that assumes those employers and employees would be okay with choosing a government-run option instead of their private insurance.

Yeah, none of that is going to work.

The good news is that this study wasn't conducted by some right wing or libertarian group, but the Democrat super majority controlled California state legislature. And that means the harsh realities of what it costs to provide this long-held dream of the liberal Democrats in America can finally start being debunked in favor of more workable options.

Let's stop here for a second and clarify something that's been lost in the eternally annoying debate about whether health care is a right or a privilege. The only human right connected to health care that isn't ruinous to all other rights and responsibilities is the right of an urgently injured or dying person to get emergency care, no questions initially asked.

Once that care is administered, the care givers and/or those who paid for the care have a right to ask for some kind of payment. This is a basic ethical truth that, thanks to the bean counters in Sacramento, now has even more economic truth to back it up.

Okay, let's get back to some other realities. We now have comprehensive proof that providing government paid health care would sacrifice all those other core rights that the left, right, and just about everyone in the middle believes in.

Let's start with K-12 and higher education, which California currently spends more than it does on health care according to the state's own itemized budget figures.

So we must ask: Is it worth it to sacrifice our children's education for single payer health care?

Then you'd have to do some serious cutting to the billions the state spends to protect natural resources and the environment. The right to live in a world free of the horrors of climate change is also a right a lot of people in the same Democratic Party keep telling us is the most important thing.

So we must ask: Is it worth it to sacrifice our environment for single payer health care?

And then there's the legal right to having... legal rights. Right now, California spends about $121 billion each year to keep the judicial system, police, and jails open and running.

So we must ask: Is it worth it to sacrifice our public safety for single payer health care?

Take your time to answer, but that's the thing about rights. It's great when we commit to providing and protecting a large number of them in theory. But what do you do when one right crowds out or even cancels out another?

The simple answer is that some of those rights need to be prioritized and even rationed. Unless of course, we stop talking so much about rights and more about responsibilities. And right now, the California government may want to take the responsibility for everyone's health care for the political power it will give the state, but it certainly cannot afford it.

And this report should also stop the incessant argument from the left that single payer somehow saves money. It certainly doesn't save the state money. And even if a state like California would make the outrageous decision to double its taxes and other fees to somehow cover the cost of single payer, that would cost the private sector billions of dollars in lost income and jobs.

Health care costs are always hard to control because of the constancy of demand. But instead of spreading the cost around and thinning it out, single payer concentrates it to the government to the detriment of everything else that government and society want to achieve.

It's understandable why so much of the public is afraid of a more free market health care system. Most Americans get a weak economic education as it is, and those who do often get one that's biased against the free market.

But now California has given the public solid reasons to really fear single payer because it's obvious how much we'd all have to sacrifice to get it. Those who want more government paid health care must now be forced to explain what other key rights and expenditures need to be sacrificed for that dream.

Meanwhile, free market advocates need to seize on this California news as well and explain how the private sector can provide care without bankrupting its customers.

No matter where the debate goes from there, at least now we're forced to stick to the real numbers. At least the government of California has adequately provided that.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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