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Trump calls single-payer 'a curse'—here's what data from other countries actually show

Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 17, 2017.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
Healthcare activists protest to stop the Republican health care bill at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 17, 2017.

A group of 17 Senators led by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill calling for "Medicare for All" this week, a position supported by over 50 percent of Americans, according to an Economist/YouGuv poll from this year. With the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress opposed, it's unlikely to advance, but top officials have nonetheless come out firmly against the idea.

That's despite the fact that increased government involvement in health care around the world has actually been shown to both improve outcomes and bring down costs.

At her briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I can't think of anything worse than having government more involved in your healthcare."

And on Thursday, President Trump called the idea of single-payer health care "a curse on the U.S. and its people" and pledged to veto any version of the bill that reached his desk.

Trump has not been consistent on this point. As Twitter user Jordan Uhl pointed out, in President Trump's 2000 book, "The America we deserve," he strongly espoused the opposite opinion, writing, "We must have universal healthcare."

Regardless, his administration's current negativity isn't supported by the data. Countries with some version of "Medicare for all," single-payer or universal coverage all outperform the U.S. They deliver better results and do so at a lower cost.

According to a 2017 analysis of 11 rich, Western countries by the Commonwealth Fund, America comes in 11th.

In their report, the Fund writes: "We find that U.S. health care system performance ranks last among 11 high-income countries. ... These results are troubling because the U.S. has the highest per capita health expenditures of any country and devotes a larger percentage of its GDP to health care than any other country."

America's dismal performance comes for a very specific reason, the Fund reports: The U.S. comes up short because "it is the only high-income country lacking universal health insurance coverage."

A striking example is that American women have a mortality risk that's three times higher than English women, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. And, while labor and delivery is vastly safer in Liverpool than it is in Louisiana, it's also vastly cheaper there.

In U.S. dollars, it costs $2,300 on average for a vaginal delivery or planned C-section in the U.K., or $3,400 for a more complicated procedure. By contrast, in America it costs more than 10 times as much — $30,000 for the former and $50,000 for the latter — all for worse outcomes.

In a viral Op-Ed for the Washington Post calling for single-payer, Dr. David A. Ansell writes that, under America's current arrangement, citizens "die of poverty," which is both needless and cruel. "Our current multi-payer for-profit health insurance system perpetuates premature death by putting many people at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to affording care," he writes.

The U.S. could afford to make the switch.

"We pay enough in health-care taxes alone — that is, the government revenue that goes to Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and a few other things — to cover a Canada-style Medicare-for-all system for the whole U.S., and then that much again in private money," writes Ryan Cooper for the Week.

"In other words, if we could simply copy-paste Canada's universal health-care system into America, taxes would actually go down."

It's also worth noting that, while Canadians pay somewhat more in taxes than Americans do, they get far more from their government in the form of social services. That's partly why Canada ranks, alongside other wealthy Western countries that also use tax dollars to provide universal health care and other benefits, asone of the Top 10 happiest countries on earth, significantly higher than America.

A new Congressional Republican repeal-and-replace effort doesn't seem to be attracting much support. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) just came out against it on Twitter, calling it "Obamacare Lite."

For now, it seems, the health care impasse will continue.

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