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Ben Stein is so wrong about health care it’s hard to know where to begin — Part 1

Single-payer does not protect people with pre-existing conditions

Ben Stein appeared on “Your World with Neil Cavuto” Wednesday to discuss late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s touching monologue that included ill-informed statements about health care. Instead of trying to correct Kimmel’s assertions, though, Stein just added to the confusion.

Regarding the future of our health care system, Stein said, “At the end of the day … it’s going to be single-payer. And the taxpayers are going to have to pick up the tab, and we might as well face that fact as soon as possible. I don’t like it … but Jimmy is totally right. We cannot let Americans be denied health care because of preexisting conditions.”

If that doesn’t sound enough like a left-wing talking point, Stein then uttered this nonsense:

It is a basic American right to have decent health care. That is a basic right. We live in a very rich country … and the idea that any parent who sees his child born with a serious defect will think, ‘My God, I might not be able to afford to keep my child alive.’ is abhorrent to everything it means to be an American.

I’ll address the spurious notion that health care is a right in my next post. For now, let’s unpack Stein’s first statement.

Stein paints single-payer health care as inevitable. Well, nothing is inevitable until it happens and single-payer seems particularly unlikely. The last time our government tried a big expansion into health care it gave rise to big protests at town hall meetings, spawned a movement known as the Tea Party, and caused lots of members of Congress to lose their jobs. It also resulted in millions of people losing their insurance and the mess that is the Obamacare exchanges. If you believe that most Americans are going to be eager for the full government takeover of health care that is single-payer after the Obamacare debacle, well, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Stein also suggests that single-payer will prevent Americans from being denied health care because of preexisting conditions. Mavis Skeet and Diane Gorsuch might have had something to say about that. Unfortunately, they died awaiting care. Ms. Skeet had her cancer operation canceled four times under Britain’s single-payer system while Ms. Gorsuch had her bypass surgery canceled twice under Canada’s.

However, he could talk to Frances Hillier. She’s now mourning the loss of her daughter, Laura. Laura had a preexisting condition—leukemia. She needed a stem cell transplant to survive, but couldn’t receive one because no beds were available at Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. The government of Ontario had been warned almost 10 years ago that hospitals would be short of the resources needed to meet the demand for stem cell transplants.

Such stories are not mere anecdotes.

Wait times for treatment and canceled surgeries are constant features of single-payer systems.  All health care systems ration resources and single-payer systems ration them by making the sickest people wait for treatment. The reason is politicians exercise great control over those single-payer systems and rationing by means of imposing wait-lists is in their best interest.

Politicians, like everyone else, face a system of incentives and constraints.

Specifically, most politicians want to get re-elected and that will have a substantial impact on health care policy. Interest-group warfare plays a part, as well. Groups with political clout that can influence a politician’s re-election chances are more likely to receive good treatment under government-run health care systems. Groups that lack clout are more likely to be neglected by politicians and receive inferior care.

Unfortunately, people who are quite sick—those who need an operation or cancer treatment or have a serious chronic condition—usually lack such political clout.

First, the very sick are relatively few in number, which means they amount to a very limited number of voters, too limited to have much impact on elections.

Second, they are too sick to engage in the type of political activities such as organizing, protesting, etc., that can help bring about health care policy changes.

Furthermore, they may be completely unaware of how government health care policy has affected their plight, in which case they will not feel a need to vote or organize to change health care policy.

Politicians have little to fear from the sickest patients and so resources are rationed around their treatment. Ultimately, under a government system, those with the greatest medical need are the most likely to have difficulty getting the care they need.

It only takes some Google searches to discover single-payer systems don’t protect people with preexisting conditions. It is to Stein’s discredit that he believes otherwise.