The Senate’s failure to pass a bill repealing and replacing Obamacare has given new life to the narrative that there’s a budding romance between the American people – especially millennials – and “socialized medicine.” Many believe, some even wistfully, that it’s only a matter of time until we have a United Kingdom-style single-payer, government-run health care system. A recent Vox article makes the case that the American people are starting to buy-in to this movement in a post entitled: “An astonishing change in how Americans think about government-run health care.”
For the past few years, pollsters have asked about a thousand or so Americans the same question: Does the government have an obligation to ensure all Americans have health care?
They’ve found a remarkable shift, with Americans swinging sharply toward the belief that the government ought to play a very large role in the health care system.
Specifically, the percentage of Americans who think the government has an obligation to ensure coverage to all citizens has risen from 42 percent in 2013 to 60 percent in 2017.
The Vox writer is cherry picking her results and overhyping her case. There has been no astonishing shift in public opinion.
Polling isn’t always what it seems and the results can be easily manipulated. For example, see what a writer could do with this Gallup poll from 2016 that looked at Americans’ perceptions of economic concepts:
A Vox headline writer could look at the results and say, “A Majority of Millennials Embrace Socialism – Gallup poll finds 55 percent of millennials have a favorable view of socialism compared to only 24 percent of Americans over 65.”
But that would be misleading. Gallup found that millennials view small business, entrepreneurs, the free enterprise system and capitalism more favorably than socialism. In fact, Gallup found millennials have a higher opinion of small business and free enterprise than Americans over 65.
Moreover, the past 25 years of polling on health care has found that while the public is fond of the idea of everyone having universal access to health care, they want the private market, not the government, to deliver that outcome.
A 2016 Associated Press poll is a great example of what happens when Americans are asked to consider the policy implications of government-run health care. On the surface the results were good news for people who want a government-run system. AP found, “A slim plurality of 39 percent supports replacing the private health insurance system with a single government-run, taxpayer-funded plan that would cover medical, dental, vision and long-term care, with 33 percent opposed.”
But the poll also found that support for a single-payer system evaporates the more a respondent learns about the policy.
While there’s hardly a groundswell of support for government-run health care, there are signs voter attitudes are slowly shifting in that direction. But this move is far from inevitable.
Advocates of a single-payer system rely on the idea of universal coverage to garner support while ignoring the massive costs that will be imposed to get there. The draw of Bernie Sanders amongst younger Americans shows that this can be an effective pitch. However, polls consistently show that the more Americans learn about socialism and government-run health care the less they like it.
That is why it is critical that supporters of market-based solutions make the case that “entrepreneurs” and the “free enterprise” system truly is a more effective way to deliver universal access and the kind of health care Americans want. If they fail, “only a matter of time” predictions may come to fruition, along with the massive costs.