Can We Start Being Honest About How We'd Pay For Medicare For All?

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Can We Start Being Honest About How We'd Pay For Medicare For All?

The answer to the question posed by the headline is, of course, no. Not in a million years. If Medicare for All were ever implemented in the U.S., a lot of very rich people and very big corporations would lose a lot of money, which is why we’ll be engaged in an information war complete with wheelbarrows full of lobbyist money and reams of think tank disinformation until the day it happens. Still, a fellow can dream.

The inspiration for this post is a tweet from Axios that came out this morning:

Headline: “Bernie's “Medicare For All” plan would cost the government $33 trillion over 10 years.”

Okay, so first things first, that headline is written to make it sound super expensive. But as Rob Delaney noted in a reply, there's a caveat:

It’s cheaper! If I could wave a magic wand and make Americans understand one concept, it would be this:

1. Universal health care means health care that is free at the point of service, i.e. at hospitals, clinics, etc.

2. It is paid for by tax dollars.

3. However, the amount you will pay in tax dollars is OFFSET by the amount you save in actual health care costs. Even biased reports estimate that the average cost to the consumer would be lower, and if you get unlucky with an expensive health incident, the savings would be astronomical. Again, for emphasis: Medicare for All is not adding tax payments to your current health care expenditures. It is replacing those expenditures in order to protect people.

The specific report that Axios cites was released by the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank funded by the Koch Brothers (Charles Koch sits on the board), among others, and which is therefore almost definitely biased since all its donors are opposed to Medicare for All. Per Fox News, Bernie Sanders’ staff already found an error:

Sanders’ staff found an error in an original version of the Mercatus report, which counted a long-term care program that was in the 2016 proposal but not the current one. Blahous corrected it, reducing his estimate by about $3 trillion over 10 years. Blahous says the report is his own work, not the Koch brothers’.

Regardless, we’re going to see a number of estimates as progressive Democrats keep winning and pushing the idea of a single payer system. Opponents of the concept will keep framing it as “x-trillion dollars over x years!” in an attempt to shock the system. And they will ignore the critical point, which is that there will be no more premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or astronomical expenses associated with care.

Jacobin ran a headline that better reflects the truth here: Even Libertarians Admit Medicare for All Would Save Trillions. But ABC? Fox News? CBS? NBC? They all echoed the headline, with very minor variations: “It would cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years.” It was left to outlets like Think Progress to do the math:

Monday’s study concluded that not only would Medicare for All provide insurance for the millions of Americans currently without coverage, but it would also save the government $2.054 trillion over the next decade.

It would be far more honest to talk about net gain or loss, or even to mention how a new system would protect people from choosing between bankruptcy and death. But mainstream sources are geared to listen to conservative bias and echo it, so I suppose it’s up to everyone else to set the record straight.

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