No time for Medicare for All
Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021. The bill already has 112 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
This isn’t Jayapal’s first bid for Medicare for All. She introduced a similar bill in 2019. This time around, her argument is that the COVID-19 pandemic proves that we need a government takeover of our healthcare system within two years.
Hardly. Medicare for All would be disastrous for everyone’s health — and their wallets. Consider Medicare for All’s hefty price tag. Jayapal hasn’t proposed how she’d finance it. And that’s on purpose. Similar proposals have run north of $32 trillion over 10 years. In 2019, the total tax take by the federal government was $3.5 trillion. In other words, the yearly cost of Medicare of All is just slightly less than what the federal government collects in taxes in a given year!
Funding the program will require massive new taxes. Sen. Bernie Sanders has floated a new 4% income tax on households earning over $29,000 and a new 7.5% payroll tax, among other levies, to pay for Medicare for All vision. Sanders’s bill would also set physician reimbursement rates at current Medicare levels — which are far below the market rates that private insurers pay.
A separate analysis from Emory University professor Kenneth Thorpe found that 70% of working privately insured households would pay more for Medicare for All than they do for their own coverage today.
The costs aren’t just financial. In an evaluation of several different single-payer proposals, the Congressional Budget Office concluded demand for care would eventually exceed supply. That would lead to rationed care — and worse outcomes for patients.
In the United Kingdom’s government-run healthcare system, more than 4.5 million patients were waiting for care as of this past January — a record high for the second month in a row. Canadian patients wait a median of 22 weeks between an appointment with a general practitioner and treatment from a specialist, according to a 2020 report from the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute. Those are the longest waits on record.
The United States cannot afford to follow our peers in the U.K. and Canada down the road to single-payer.
Sally C. Pipes is the president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.