"Hello, 911? I think I'm having a heart attack."
"We'll send an ambulance to your address right away. It'll be there in four hours. Good luck."
That's the present reality for patients captive to the United Kingdom's government-run, single-payer health care system. And it's apparently what the progressives who have lined up behind Sen. Bernie Sanders' burgeoning campaign to install single-payer stateside want to impose upon their countrymen.
In recent weeks, Britain's National Health Service has been brought to its knees by an abnormally bad flu season. The spike in patients with the flu has overwhelmed the NHS' ability to care for severely ill and injured patients. More than 58,000 people had to wait at least 30 minutes for an ambulance. Nearly 17,000 waited for hours in ambulances after arriving at the hospital.
Rationed care and lengthy delays aren't just inconvenient. They're deadly. One woman in Essex called an ambulance after experiencing chest pain. When it finally arrived at her home — almost four hours later — she had already died.
Other patients have died waiting in hospital corridors, according to a recent letter from NHS doctors and consultants.
To make space for patients in immediate need, hospitals canceled all nonurgent operations — totaling about 50,000. These cancellations have forced people who need hip surgeries, knee replacements and other procedures to linger in pain for at least another month.
Nearly 10 percent of Brits say they've been personally affected by the NHS' recent dysfunction.
Worse, conditions aren't expected to improve anytime soon. One million additional patients will have to wait more than four hours for emergency department care by 2020, according to a recent report from the British Medical Association.
The United Kingdom isn't the only single-payer nation where patients suffer from rationed care.
In Canada, wait times have reached record highs. Patients face a median wait of more than 21 weeks to obtain treatment from specialists after they receive referrals from primary care doctors, according to a 2017 study from the Fraser Institute. Canadians in some provinces wait over 40 weeks.
Long waits are the norm in countries with single-payer. Since patients do not face copays or co-insurance at the point of care, they have no incentive to seek out competitively priced doctors, choose cheaper medicines or otherwise economize their consumption of care.
The government can only control costs by paying ultra-low reimbursements to health care providers and limiting access to cutting-edge treatments and technologies. The comparatively skimpy pay deters people from entering the medical field and discourages investors from building new hospitals and clinics. Hence, demand for care exceeds supply. Shortages are the result.
Even as single-payer fails patients abroad, progressive lawmakers are advocating for government-run health care here at home. Sixteen Senate Democrats have co-sponsored the single-payer bill Sanders introduced in September. More than 60 percent of House Democrats have signed on to a similar bill in the lower chamber.
State policymakers are just as gung-ho for single-payer. In California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — the front-runner in the 2018 gubernatorial race — ardently supports SB 562, a single-payer bill that would cost $400 billion and force everyone covered by private insurance, Medicare and the state's version of Medicaid to enroll in a new, state-run health plan.
In Massachusetts, the state Senate recently passed a bill that calls on the state government to explore the cost of establishing a single-payer system. Lawmakers in Rhode Island introduced a single-payer bill in January; legislators in New Hampshire held hearings on their single-payer bill earlier this month as well.
American progressives love to hype the "free" care that patients enjoy in the United Kingdom and Canada. But progressives rarely mention the long waits for patients in pain, huge new taxes and substandard treatment inherent to single-payer.61 comments on this story
It's no mystery why they're mum. Once Americans learn they'll have to wait hours for an ambulance and months for a routine surgery, "free" health care might not sound so appealing.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed Thomas Smith as a co-author. Sally C. Pipes is the sole author and is a Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book, "The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care" (Encounter), is out this month. Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.