Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pushing his single-payer health care initiative. Alternatively called Medicare-for-All, the self-described democratic socialist has decided now was the time to split his party in two over this issue. It’s going to call for $32 trillion in new taxes; it’s not going anywhere. Sanders even had Canadian doctors flown in to help sell his left wing health care revamp, but even they admitted that single-payer systems breed long wait times. In Canada and the United Kingdom, at least one million people cannot find a general practitioner. Resources run low and doctors go on strike because their paychecks are cut in cost-saving measures. Access to specialized care, treatments, and medicines will have to be reduced in order to cut costs. More taxes for reduced access in care. That’s sounds like a bad bargain.
On Meet the Press over the weekend, host Chuck Todd decided to replay the tape of then-Mayor of Burlington Bernie Sanders, who admitted that expanding Medicaid, the government-run health care program for the working poor, to everyone would bankrupt the nation back in 1987. Todd asked him about that, noting that on paper, it gets high marks until voters see the details. Sanders decided to deploy evasive maneuvers and make slight jabs at news networks for not devoting adequate time for his socialist takeover of health care (via Meet The Press):
CHUCK TODD: Well, I want to ask you about the cost issue because, as you know, some of your friends on the right, I put “friends” in quotes here, are referring back to an old conversation of yours having to do with the cost of expanding the health care system. Let me play it and get your reaction on the other side.
CHUCK TODD: Obviously, senator, the issue of this is the idea of health care for all is something that has majority support. And then when you remind people how much it could cost, how much taxes go up, [and] then people get concerned. And obviously you were concerned about the finances there. Explain what you mean and how you can change the funding system to not make this so astronomical.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Okay. Very good question, Chuck. But here is my hope; you and I are going to discuss this within five minutes. I would hope very much that NBC and CBS and ABC allow us some serious discussion time to explain to people in our country why we are spending so much more than other countries. But very briefly, and I would hope that we can have an hour discussion at some point on this issue, very briefly this is what we're going to do. Number one, private insurance companies in this country spend between 12 and 18 percent on administration costs. And they're administering hundreds of different private insurance plans. You have a deductible of $5,000; I have one of $8,000. It is incredibly complicated and very costly to administer. The cost of administering the Medicare program, the very popular program that works well for our seniors, is 2 percent. We can save approximately $500 billion a year just in administration costs. Second of all, because we pay so much more per capita on health- for our prescription drugs, by having Medicare negotiate drug prices we can save over $100 billion there. So that's a lot of savings. Thirdly, and here is the important point, my Republican friends say, "Well, Bernie wants to raise your taxes." They forget to conveniently mention that Bernie wants to do away with the private insurance premiums that you're now paying. For example, Chuck, the average employer has a worker who makes $50,000 a year is spending $13,000 a year on health insurance for that worker. The worker himself or herself is spending $5,000. $18,000. Now if our plan goes into effect that $13,000 private insurance premium disappears for the employer. It goes down. The amount of money that the worker is now spending, that $5,000 goes down. We replace private insurance premiums with Medicare premiums. The average middle class worker saves money.
CHUCK TODD: Well, I, I, I guess the question I have for you though is how do you convince some 80 percent of Americans who do get health care from their employer that it is worth re-jiggering the system again? That seems to be the other challenge here. Because, as you know, people that get employer-based private insurance are basically happy with their insurance. The people that are not happy are those in that other 20 percent.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, yes and no. And, in fact, we are going to need a lot of discussion. And, again, I would hope that on NBC, CBS, ABC we could begin to have that kind of discussion in a serious way. But here is the truth, you know, Gallup does a lot of polling on this issue. And what they find out is that the most popular health insurance program in this country is Medicare. People, seniors, feel really good. Veterans Administration ranks very high. In fact, private insurance company is not all that popular. Well, we have to tell the average worker the only thing that is changing in this program, this is not, quote, unquote, a government takeover. The only thing that's changing is the color of your insurance card from a Blue Cross Blue Shield card, a United Health card to a Medicare-for-all card. You're still going to go to the doctor you want. It's the same structure.
CHUCK TODD: All right. I'm going to move onto a couple topics. But I do promise you some time, longer time, on this topic. I think that's--
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I would love to do that.
The debate goes on. In the meantime, here's a video on single-payer that shows why this is going to be a tough sell. Washington Post writer Catherine Rampell torched the Sanders plan as not being grounded in reality:
Single-payer certainly sounds far simpler, fairer, less wasteful and cheaper than the patchwork of private and public insurers and providers we have today. Today’s system was created more by historical accident than deliberate design. President Barack Obama (among others, including me) said many times that if we were building a health-care system from scratch, we’d probably concoct something that falls under the broad category of “single-payer.”
But we’re not starting from scratch. We live in our patchwork world, which means if we want single-payer — an ill-defined catchall, by the way — we need to figure out how to get from here to there. This involves painful political choices, sharp tax hikes and some degree of buy-in from the many stakeholders who are going to get shafted in the transition.
What about the 178 million people who currently have employer-sponsored health insurance and overwhelmingly like it? What about the sticker shock awaiting individuals and employers over the tax increases necessary to pay for such a program? What happens if hospitals go bankrupt because Medicare reimburses at much lower rates than private insurance? Would the government step in and run them, as is the case in Britain?
And most important, how do you actually pay for this enormous, multi-trillion-dollar overhaul? (Is Mexico paying?) Given Americans’ allergy to higher taxes, it’s not enough to dismiss fiscal concerns by assuming Americans will gladly give Uncle Sam the money they currently earmark for a private health insurance system.
On this and other major questions, the Sanders plan punts. Anyone who asks such questions, or raises an eyebrow at the lowball estimates cooked up by the Sanders camp, gets branded a wet blanket, a heartless technocrat, a corporate shill or worse.