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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently launched his latest bid to ban private health insurance and force all Americans into a government-run health plan.
The Vermont socialist gets points for consistency. He’s introduced legislation that would establish “Medicare for All” in the past four sessions of Congress and has been stumping for single-payer health care for his entire political career.
But passion is not a substitute for wisdom. And Medicare for All is deeply unwise. It would extract hefty taxes from Americans and force them to endure long waits and rationed care in return.
Medicare for All is a bit of a misnomer. The bills would effectively nationalize health insurance. The feds would have a monopoly on paying for health care in this country, with the exception of things like cosmetic surgery. Primary care, surgery, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, substance abuse, long-term care, reproductive care — all would be under the purview of the federal government.
According to testimony last year by Charles Blahous of George Mason University, the program would cost between $32.6 trillion and $38.8 trillion over 10 years.
Sen. Sanders and his supporters argue that that’s a good deal. But adding upwards of $3 trillion a year to the federal budget would require huge tax increases. American households would experience an average decline of $5,671 in annual disposable income. For nearly two-thirds of households, the new taxes would exceed the savings associated with no longer paying premiums and out-of-pocket expenses under their current insurance plans.
The only households that would benefit are those without any workers — mostly fully retired households. Are young workers excited by the prospect of transferring yet more of their income to their elders?
Those higher taxes wouldn’t buy much in the way of care. Just look at how patients in government-run systems abroad are faring. In England, a record 7.3 million people are waiting to start hospital treatment. That’s equivalent to more than 10% of the population. Last year, almost 350,000 people in England waited 12 hours or more in the emergency department before being admitted to the hospital. Britons are frustrated by long wait times and rationed care. Public satisfaction with the National Health Service was 29% in 2022 — the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1983. Canada’s single-payer system is also struggling to meet the needs of its citizens. British Columbia’s health minister recently announced that thousands of patients awaiting radiation treatment for breast or prostate cancer would be eligible to cross the border to clinics in Bellingham, Wash., to receive the care they need.
Medicare for All may be a potent rallying cry for Sen. Sanders and his fellow progressives. But it would leave most Americans with less money and worse care. Let’s not go down this road. Once single-payer is implemented, there is no off ramp.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.