How realistic is a single-payer health care system in the U.S.?

The question of how feasible a single-payer health care system in the U.S. is has taken on prominence as Democratic presidential candidates continue to spar over different policy proposals, with some promising to implement a Medicare for All health policy if elected.

A WBUR series explored what such a system might look like.

In a December 3, 2019 episode, experts discussed the upsides and downsides of Canada’s universal health care system and the economics of implementing a similar system in the U.S.

William Hsiao, K.T. Li Research Professor of Economics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that universal Medicare is clearly the most efficient way to set up a health care system and would reign in administrative costs in the U.S. He noted, however, that broader economic trends can impact such health systems. As an example, he noted that Canada is now under-funding its health care due to a prolonged period of recession in the 2000s and 2010s. “That’s what’s causing some of the shortages of physicians, as well as the long waiting lines for non-emergency medical cases,” he said.

The article also quoted John McDonough, professor of the practice of public health, who said that Medicare for All is the smartest way to set up a system in the U.S, but that it isn’t politically feasible at the moment.

“There are other feasible systems [besides single payer] — particularly Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland — that do it another way but achieve universal coverage, have significantly lower costs than the United States, and have high rates of public satisfaction,” he said. “That could be achieved [in the U.S.] without doing what happens when we go for the whole thing, which is burning down the house.”

On December 4, 2019, Hsiao and McDonough participated in another interview with WBUR that further explored the feasibility of a single-payer system in the U.S.

Read the WBUR article: In Nova Scotia, Canada’s Universal Health Care Beset By Access Issues

Listen to the WBUR interview: Is A Single Payer Health Care System Politically Feasible For The U.S.?