Arming herself for Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate, contender Kamala Harris unveiled her latest health care position paper. Harris has flip-flopped over whether she supports eliminating all private insurance in favor of a single-payer government-run health system. Her new plan tries to have it both ways. Don't be fooled.
Reacting to people's fears about having private health insurance they like ripped away, Harris is promising a 10-year transition period. Here's what you need to know.
If you get health insurance at work or buy your own plan, will you be able to keep it? No. Harris says insurance companies will be allowed "to offer a plan" in the government-run system but only if they follow the government's strict rules to skimp on what's spent on your care. "If they want to play by our rules, they can be in the system. If not, they have to get out," she says.
Harris' plan keeps the window dressing of private insurance but, in fact, rapidly transitions to Medicare payment rates and rules. In contrast, Joe Biden is promising Democratic voters he won't make any radical changes to the current health insurance system. "If you like your private insurance, you can keep it," he says.
Who has the most to lose under Kamalacare? Patients. Harris' plan will plunge hospitals into financial distress, exposing patients to dangerous shortages of nurses, medical supplies and waits for treatment. Hospitals will be forced to operate with less revenue and care for more patients.
Harris brags that "Medicare works" and misleadingly suggests that expanding it to everyone is the way to reduce health care costs. That's a shell game.
Right now, Medicare shortchanges hospitals, paying them less than 90 cents for every dollar of care for seniors. But hospitals accept the low payments because they can shift the unmet costs to younger patients who have private insurance that pays more. But under Kamalacare, even private insurers will be paying the stingy rates. There will be no cost shifting. Hospitals will have to skimp on nurses and crowd more beds into a room. Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, warns that Medicare rates are "wholly inadequate."
An April 2019 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association warned that making Medicare payment rates universal, as Harris wants to do, would force many hospitals into bankruptcy and likely cause 850,00 layoffs. Fewer nurses on the floor means patients wait longer when they press the call button for help.
What about seniors? They'd be the biggest losers. Under Harris' scheme, health plans will pay doctors less. To keep their doors open, they'll have to see more patients per hour. Doctors will avoid seniors like the plague, because they take up more time.
The Medicare hospital trust fund is projected to run out of funds in 2026. If you're 55 and counting on Medicare to pay for your knee replacement in a decade, you should be insisting that the current system be shored up, not opened up to everyone.
Who's going to pay for Kamalacare? Harris has several answers. They're all double talk. She glibly promises to cut the profits for the two bogeymen, drug companies and insurance companies. Let's hope the debate moderators ask Harris how much money these two industries make. The answer is $23.4 billion profit for the health insurance industry and $133 billion profit for American drug companies. Even eliminating these profits entirely wouldn't pay for a minuscule 5 percent of Harris' plan.
Harris also promises a tax on Wall Street bond and stock sales. But that, she admits, would only produce $200 billion a year, less than one-tenth of the estimated $3.2 trillion-a-year tab for universal government-run health care.
The truth is Harris' plan, like Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan, will require mammoth, life-altering tax hikes on the middle class, because the half of the population that currently pays for its own health insurance would become dependent on the public system.
Harris is not leveling with the public about the human and financial costs of her radical insurance scheme.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.