For most of us, the coronavirus pandemic is an ordeal we’re slogging our way through. However, some are seizing the opportunity to appeal for support for the health care schemes that have failed other nations.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for one, has gone as far as to claim that Medicare for All would have been more effective in handling the coronavirus outbreak than our current mixed health care system.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency. The grim twist is that under the single-payer arrangement he’s grown fond of, medical care in California would be in a constant state of emergency.

Earlier this year, Newsom cranked up his Healthy California for All Commission. Its members were instructed to determine how the state will provide “coverage and access through a unified financing system, including, but not limited to a single payer financing system.”
Whatever the commission comes up with, it would only worsen an outbreak of a virulent and easily spreadable disease, such as one we might have coming if the cases of coronavirus continue to grow. A government-run medical care system, which will be overused and overwhelmed due to its “free” nature even in ordinary times, could not handle the mass of patients.
“In the not-too-distant past, Canada and the United Kingdom have struggled to handle outbreaks of everything from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to the seasonal flu,” Pacific Research Institute President Sally Pipes wrote last month.
“That’s largely because these countries’ government-run, ‘Medicare-for-all’-style systems lack enough health care personnel, hospital beds and other resources to meet the needs of their populations even in good times. A public health threat like a pandemic can stretch single-payer health care to its breaking point.”
Pipes also notes that checking the spread of disease requires doctors, hospitals, and public health officials to work fast and closely coordinate their efforts.
“That’s tough to do,” she says, “when there aren’t enough doctors or hospital beds to accommodate the sick.”
Absent a pandemic, a government-run or universal health care system would still be in a permanent state of crisis. Single-payer systems place an unmanageable strain on public finances.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reckons “a single-payer program similar to that envisioned in” Senate Bill 562, the Healthy California Act, introduced in 2017 but never becoming law, “could cost around $400 billion annually and require new state tax revenues in the low hundreds of billions of dollars.”
A government takeover of Californians’ medical care would also produce a system under an endless siege. Because users won’t regulate their consumption in a third-party-payer arrangement, where there is no payment at the point of service, doctors, nurses, and physicians will be buried by demand. The only recourse available when this occurs is to deny treatment to some.
A year ago, a flu season that was hardly the worst of the decade “pushed the 70-year-old” National Health Service “to the brink of collapse,” Pipes wrote in Fortune. The previous spring, the British Medical Association said the NHS had reached the point of being in a perpetual year-round crisis.
Only months earlier, the Daily Express reported that “the number of patients who die while languishing on NHS waiting lists has rocketed,” with “at least 10,000 extra people every year never” receiving “the treatment they have been waiting for compared with five years ago.”
Even the British House of Lords has been forced to admit the health care system for all “is in crisis.”
Then there’s Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, the public national health service of Italy, which has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Western nation. Conditions are particularly grim there because there aren’t enough doctors in the system to properly treat the sick nor enough beds to accommodate them.
Shocking as the facts are, they should surprise no one. A government system doesn’t have the incentives to provide better care and extend lives, and to do these things more efficiently. A competitive private-sector market does. This is one reason that, as the Hoover Institute’s Lee Ohanian reported last year, Britain’s “NHS is now turning over some NHS operations to for-profit companies with the expectation that they will achieve higher efficiency levels.”
It’s also why Californians who can afford to will be traveling to other states to see doctors and have surgery should Sacramento force a single-payer scheme on the state. The outbound traffic would be heavy under normal circumstances, and as miserable as a Los Angeles rush hour when we’re threatened by future outbreaks of nasty, highly communicable diseases.