Misleading voters on Medicare for All

By Hal Scherz and Sally C. Pipes

Health care is the number one issue on voters’ minds as the midterm elections approach. Half of all Democratic campaign ads have focused on it.

Democratic candidates are not merely defending Obamacare. Many are proudly running on a platform of Medicare for All, a government-run health plan they say would provide free, high-quality care to every American.

Voters shouldn’t be fooled. Single-payer health care would wreck our nation’s economy and provide shoddy medical care to patients.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has emerged as the “pied piper” of single-payer health care. Under the “Medicare for All” plan he’s introduced in the Senate, the government would effectively outlaw private health insurance, including the employer-sponsored coverage about half of Americans get through work today. The feds would pay for virtually all health services.

Sen. Sanders’s plan would represent a federal takeover of about one-fifth of the U.S. economy. It would cost the government an additional $32 trillion over 10 years, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Urban Institute arrived at a similar estimate in 2016. The government would have to more than double its tax take to fund Sanders’ brand of Medicare for All.

Despite its high price tag, single-payer has attracted considerable support from progressive lawmakers. One-third of Senate Democrats, including presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, are co-sponsoring the Sanders bill. The House version has more than 120 co-sponsors. The House’s newly minted Medicare for All Caucus already boasts 70 members.

Support for a government takeover of the U.S. health care system now appears to be the price of admission to the Democratic Party. The party’s candidate for president in 2020 will almost certainly put Medicare for All at the center of his or her pitch to voters.

That pitch may fall flat. Medicare for All would severely disrupt the economy and cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose their jobs. The Sanders plan, for instance, envisions reimbursing doctors at Medicare rates, which are about 40 percent lower than private insurance reimbursements.

Doctors won’t be able to just swallow a big pay cut. They’ll have to lay off nurses and administrative staff. Some are likely to retire early, reduce the number of hours they’ll work, or leave medical practice altogether.

Meanwhile, America’s best and brightest students are almost certain to think twice before entering the medical field. Why spend years and thousands of dollars in medical school and residency when there are far more lucrative opportunities elsewhere in the economy? Medicare for All will make the practice of medicine less appealing — and thus exacerbate our nation’s already acute doctor shortage.

The math of Medicare for All also won’t work for many hospitals. By next year, more than four in five hospitals will lose money treating Medicare’s beneficiaries. They depend on higher payments from private insurers to balance their books. Eliminating private insurance could force them to close their doors.

Single-payer has played out this way in other countries — with disastrous consequences for patients.

In the United Kingdom, patients must deal with long waits and rationed care. More than 4.3 million people are waiting for operations — the highest figure in 10 years. There’s a critical shortage of doctors and nurses.

Canada’s single-payer system bans private insurance for anything deemed medically necessary, just as Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would. Canadians can either wait a median of more than 21 weeks for treatment from a specialist after being referred by their primary care doctor — or try to seek care outside the country.

Some Americans have already experienced the dysfunction inherent in single-payer systems. Hospitals and clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs are notorious for long waits, bureaucratic indifference and medical errors. A 2015 report found that more than 300,000 veterans may have died waiting for care.

Progressive Democrats promise that Medicare for All will deliver high-quality care at lower cost. The experiences of Canadians, Britons and even U.S. veterans show that’s simply not true.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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