Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled his plan for extending Medicare to all Americans.
Sanders’ proposal would provide more generous coverage than Medicare currently does. Private insurance would be a thing of the past, as would premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Dental, vision, and hearing coverage would be included. In short, health care would be “free” for everyone.
Sen. Sanders must be making his bid to be the third Grimm Brother — because his Medicare-for-All plan is nothing more than a fairy tale. Government-run, single-payer health care has proved time and again to be a costly, destructive fantasy.
That hasn’t stopped Democrats from falling under single-payer’s spell. Sixteen Senate Democrats have signed on to co-sponsor Sanders’ bill.
The idea is also enchanting ordinary Americans. Fifty-three percent support single payer, according to a June 2017 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But this supposed support is a mirage. According to the same Kaiser poll, 62% would oppose single-payer if it gave the government too much power over health care. Sixty percent would reject it if it increased taxes.
Single-payer would do both. Sanders estimated that the single-payer plan he proposed during his presidential campaign would cost $1.4 trillion a year. To cover that cost, the plan included a 2.2% income tax, a 6.2% tax on employers and additional taxes on the wealthy.
Even a genie couldn’t deliver single-payer at a cost that low. The liberal Urban Institute’s analysis of Sanders’ campaign plan found that federal expenditures would surge $32 trillion over its first 10 years.
Total U.S. health spending from all payers, public and private, was $3.2 trillion in 2015, the most recent year for which there are data. In other words, the single-payer plan Sanders flogged on the campaign trail would have added an amount equivalent to what our entire nation spends on health care each year to the federal budget.
The United States can barely afford its financial commitments to the existing Medicare population. In 2010, Medicare cost $446 billion. By 2027, that tab will more than double, to $1.2 trillion. The latest report from Medicare’s trustees reveals that its trust fund will be depleted by 2029.
The program is in this dire financial situation despite the fact that it charges seniors premiums and deductibles that can run a few thousand dollars a year.
Yet Sanders wants to eliminate cost-sharing and offer more benefits to more people. Clearly, math is not his strong suit.
Then again, Sanders admits that his plans for paying for his bill are imaginary. “Rather than give a detailed proposal about how we’re going to raise $3 trillion a year, we’d rather give the American people options,” he told the Washington Post.
That’s not good enough for many of Sanders’ ideological fellow travelers. Indiana University professor and New York Times contributor Aaron Carroll, who is sympathetic to the idea of single-payer, said, “I have a problem with plans that offer the moon and don’t explain what they’re sacrificing.” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said of single-payer, there’s an “issue about how you make sure there will be adequate resources put into health care.”
Sanders himself has had concerns about single-payer’s feasibility. Thirty years ago he said that giving everybody Medicaid would cost “an astronomical sum of money” that could “bankrupt the nation.”
Three states have already seen their single-payer dreams go “poof” after looking at the price tag.
Consider Sanders’ home state of Vermont. Back in 2010, Gov. Peter Shumlin ran for the state’s top job on a pro-single-payer platform.
An analysis later found that the plan would have cost $4.3 billion — equivalent to just about the entire state budget. Paying for the plan would have required new 11.5% payroll and 9.5% income taxes. So in 2014, Shumlin abandoned the idea, claiming that “the time isn’t right” and single-payer “might hurt our economy.”
Last November, 80% of voters in Colorado rejected a ballot measure that would have created a single-payer system. The proposal would have imposed several taxes, including a 10% payroll levy, and still would have left the state to deal with a $7.8 billion deficit within a decade.
California recently pressed pause on a single-payer proposal that would have cost the state $400 billion annually — double the state budget. Not surprisingly, the bill’s proponents offered no details about how they’d pay for their plan.
Medicare-for-All will not cure what ails American health care. If Sanders’ plan picks up any more steam, our nation is headed for a very unhappy ending.