On Monday, Suzanne Somers published a column on WSJ.com regarding her thoughts on nationalized health-care. Her basic argument, though it takes some work to decipher, is fourfold. Once the Affordable Care Act is implemented, she says: the U.S. will have a healthcare system like Canada’s and that is bad news for the quality of care; premiums will skyrocket; Medicare funds will be used to pay for Obamacare efforts; our privacy will be “invaded.” As well, she mentions that Canadians doctors would rather practice in the U.S. (or choose to be veterinarians) so they can make more money.
Let’s take it one at a time.
1. The Affordable Care Act is socialized healthcare like Canada’s. And Canadian care is the worst.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t socialized health care. Private insurance companies still provide insurance. The ACA creates regulations that private insurers have to follow—like allowing children to stay on their parent’s plan and not denying coverage because of a preexisting condition. Provisions, which by the way, up to 88 percent Americans actually support. The biggest parts of the ACA involve expanding the eligibility of Medicaid for the poor and offering subsidies to make insurance affordable through the public marketplace.
In Canada, healthcare is managed with a single-payer system. Each provincial or territorial government provides publicly-funded medical care for all of its citizens.
Somers offers anecdotal evidence of wait times and rationing to show that Canada’s healthcare system is terrible. According to Somers, her incredibly ill sister-in-law had to wait a month to see the proper doctor. And death panels, she implies, offered her 75-year-old friend only treatment for pain at the end of her life. She was denied treatment, Somers says, “because she was too old. “
Canadians do tend to wait a long time to see a specialist. In 2010, 59 percent of Canadians said they waited at least four weeks for an appointment compared to 20 percent in the U.S. But those long wait times are not necessarily a by-product of their single-payer system. A 2012 article in AARP Magazine reports that wait times are a result of Canada’s choice to be fiscally conservative. And a little waiting might not be so bad, actually. As the OECD notes in the 2011 report on Health Care, “It can be cost-effective to maintain short queues of elective patients because the adverse health consequences of short delays are minimal, and there are savings in hospital capacity from allowing queues to form.”
It is true that the ACA will expand the patient pool and likely put stress on a system with a growing physician shortage. But the real problem has less to do with Obamacare and more to do with the number of aging Americans who use doctor services more. As Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Henry Aaron told Fox News, “I think the most serious shortage has nothing to do with the ACA, it’s more to do with the population aging—the elderly being newly covered is negligible.”
2. Premiums are skyrocketing
The news is abuzz, Somers asserts, with stories of “premiums are doubling and tripling.” I can’t be sure what news sites Somers is visiting, but there is little evidence to support that claim. Sure, unsubsidized premiums for individuals will be a little higher, but about 80 percent of individual enrollees won’t pay the sticker price because they will receive subsidies. Moreover, these people will, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, be getting better insurance, with capped out-of-pocket costs that include benefits like maternal care and mental health.
3. Cuts to Medicare are unfair to seniors.
The ACA made $700 billion in cuts to Medicare over 10 years. These cuts weren’t to benefits, but to reimbursements rates for doctors and hospitals. So far, these cuts have not had any impact on the elderly enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. In fact, the program has seen an unexpected 30 percent increase since the health care law was enacted. And as a direct result of the new law, more than 6.6 million seniors with Medicare have saved over $7 billion on prescription drugs.
4. Obamacare violates privacy rights.
Somers says the “most frightening” aspect of the ACA is that, “your most intimate and personal information is now up for grabs.” As far as I can tell, she’s alluding to this report in the Weekly Standard on the source code of a Healthcare.gov page, a portion of which states that users, “have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored” on the site. Texas Rep. Joe Barton also referenced the report in a congressional hearing last week, asking, “How in the world can this be HIPAA compliant?"
A couple things: First, it’s neither rational nor legal to hide provisions of a contract in the code used to build a webpage. This language in the source code had been “commented out,” meaning a programmer said, “This shouldn’t be displayed on the site.” Maybe it was being used as a placeholder and never taken out. It may be strange, but it’s inconsequential, and no one signing up for insurance on the marketplace has waived his or her right to privacy because if it. In fact, the online marketplaces come with pretty strong privacy safeguards.
5. Canadian doctors are heading to the U.S. to make money.
Despite what Ms. Somers has heard from her husband’s cousins, Canadian doctors are not leaving en masse for the U.S. In fact, more doctors move into Canada than move out.