Millions of people have canceled doctor’s appointments and postponed elective surgeries in the past 18 months. But now that the pandemic has largely subsided, many patients feel it is safe to seek treatment again.
A Gallup poll in May found that nearly 17% of Americans had visited a hospital, doctor’s office, or treatment center in the previous 24 hours, up from just 6% the year before.
However, whether patients actually receive the care they seek depends entirely on where they live.
Here in the United States, patients today have little problem scheduling quick doctor’s appointments. But in other countries with government-run health systems, patients experience extreme delays.
In the UK, waiting lists for care are longer than ever. More than 5.3 million patients were expected to start treatment in May, according to data from the country’s National Health Service – the highest number since record keeping began 14 years ago. The new British Health Secretary has just announced that waiting lists could reach up to 13 million in the coming months.
It’s not just low-risk, healthy people waiting for routine care. A hospital trust reported it had 595 “priority patients” – those at risk of limb loss or death – waiting 12 weeks or more.
In Northern Ireland, the wait for a urology appointment can be up to seven years. The wait to see an orthopedic surgeon or general surgeon is more than five years.
In the United States, by contrast, the average wait for a first patient to see a urologist is less than three weeks. The average wait to see an orthopedic surgeon in 15 major metropolitan areas across the United States reviewed by Merritt Hawkins, a physician research company, is around two weeks.
Solving Britain’s wait times crisis will be incredibly expensive – up to $ 55 billion over four years.
The UK is not the only place to suffer from a government-run healthcare system. More than 1.2 million Canadians waited for essential treatment last year. This delayed medical care has cost the country nearly $ 2.8 billion in lost wages and productivity, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
Thousands of people die every year because of these delays. More than 3,800 patients died while awaiting surgery between 2018 and 2019 in Canada. Across the Atlantic, nearly 5,500 patients died while waiting for a hospital bed from 2016 to 2019 in the United Kingdom.
Despite such grim results, many lawmakers in the United States still advocate for a single-payer system. Earlier this spring, Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, reintroduced legislation that would ban private insurance and put everyone on a government-run health plan within two years. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Democrat-controlled California and New York also considered legislation that would implement a statewide single-payer system.
As Americans return to their doctors, the British will continue to wait – in some cases for years. Bureaucracy will deny them the ability to receive early cancer diagnoses, undergo transformative surgeries, or start life-saving treatments.
The United States is just emerging from the pandemic, and people are eager to tackle health issues that may have been overlooked. Americans should thank their lucky stars that we do not live in a single payer system that forces patients to wait years for treatment.
Sally C. Pipes (@sallypipes) is President, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. His latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020).