FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Medicare-for-All is Not a Fantasy

In recent weeks several prominent Democrats have renewed the call for “Medicare for All” that Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted in his 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. This has drawn pushback from billionaires and potential presidential candidates Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, who insist the country can’t afford it. Since it’s likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign, it is worth looking at the question more closely.

First, many countries do have national health care insurance along the lines advocated by proponents of Medicare for All. The list includes Canada, France and Denmark, among others. These countries all have healthy economies, with living standards comparable to those in the United States. In fact, in all three countries, a higher percentage of prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54) are employed than in the United States. Like all countries, these countries have some economic problems, but it is absurd to claim that the cost of providing universal health care is destroying their economies.

Their health care systems also have comparable outcomes to the United States. This means not only do people live as long (actually they live somewhat longer on average), but people with health conditions such as cancer or heart disease on average do as well in countries with universal coverage as in the United States.

Having government-guaranteed medical coverage does cost money, and in all the countries with universal coverage, people do pay a larger share of their income in taxes. However, the necessary increase in taxes to provide universal care may be less than many people would fear.

First, most working people are paying something like a tax for their health care insurance since they get it through their employer. Employers don’t provide insurance as a gift, and premiums for insurance come out of workers’ wages in the same way that a tax would come out of those wages.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average employer payment for a family plan was more than $14,000 last year. Last year, this employer payment came to more than $900 billion. That’s more than $2,700 for every person in the country. Most workers would probably not object if their employers paid this money to the government for universal coverage as opposed to an insurance company.

The other key point is that we pay close to twice as much for our health care as the average person in other wealthy countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we paid $10,200 per person for health care in 2017. Canada paid $4,800, Denmark paid $5,200, and France paid $4,900.

The main reason for the difference is that we pay twice as much for everything. We pay twice as much for prescription drugs, for MRIs and other medical equipment and tests, and our doctors get paid twice as much. In addition, the private health insurance industry costs us more than $250 billion a year (almost $800 per person) to act as an intermediary between patients and providers. In addition, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other providers spend tens of billions to deal with complex claim forms that differ by insurer.

The government already pays for more than half of the nation’s health care bill through Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and other public sector programs. Getting to Medicare for All would mean covering the other half of the current expenses, along with the additional costs of paying for the uninsured and under-insured who are not getting the care they need.

This would be a difficult political process as the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and other affected groups will use all the political power they have to prevent reductions in their income. But at the end of the day, it is undeniable that the United States can afford the same guarantee of health care enjoyed by people in other wealthy countries. The question is whether we have the political commitment to bring it about.

This column originally appeared on CNN.

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail