One of the biggest targets for the right when it comes to criticism of Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals is his “Medicare For All” health insurance plan. On April 2, a doctor named Deane Waldman penned a piece for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze that is so devoid of facts that it demands debunking.
Waldman is on the board of a New Mexico group known as the “Rio Grande Foundation.” That organization describes itself as “a research institute dedicated to increasing liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico’s citizens.” Source Watch says that the foundation is connected to the Koch brothers-funded ALEC, and that it receives funding from the libertarian Cato Institute. It is also a member of the “State Policy Network,” a collection of state-level right-wing think tanks. So right away it’s obvious that Dr. Waldman is not an unbiased commentator.
100 percent wrong about Medicaid
Waldman’s first attack on Bernie’s plan has to do with Medicaid. He observes that under “Medicare for all,” everyone currently on Medicaid would be added to the Medicare rolls. He thinks that is unfair because he says that working Americans have been paying their Medicare taxes for years, and it just isn’t right that those receiving Medicaid should be allowed to have access to the program.
There are several things wrong with that argument. First, it is disingenuous to suggest that everyone who receives Medicaid doesn’t, or has never paid Medicare taxes. Thanks to pathetically low wages, many people who work full time still qualify for Medicaid. Waldman doesn’t bother to mention that. Nor does he mention that Medicare tax is taken from every dollar you earn, starting with the very first one. So as long as you are working at all, you are paying for Medicare.
Waldman, who has an MBA degree in addition to his MD, claims that adding all of those Medicaid enrollees to the Medicare system will overload a program that is already struggling. Once again, he neglects to mention that the Medicaid program is paid for by tax dollars. If you put those currently on Medicaid into the Medicare system, you just freed up billions of dollars that can be put into the Medicare program. The Center For Budget and Policy Priorities says that the states and federal government spent some $438 billion on Medicaid in 2013 alone. With Medicare For All, at least the federal portion of that money can be used for Medicare funding.
What about the tax increase to pay for this?
Next, Waldman moves to the “higher taxes” argument. This is a little stickier because Bernie’s plan will require an increase in the Medicare tax. But what Waldman doesn’t say is that while taxes will go up, there is something that currently constitutes a substantial financial burden that will go away for many Americans: health insurance premiums. Even many workers with employer sponsored health insurance still pay some of the premiums out of pocket. Also gone under Bernie’s plan are co-pays and deductibles.
The non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2015, the average person with employer-sponsored health insurance paid almost $5,000 out of pocket for family coverage. The average employer contributed an additional $12,591 to pay for those plans. Sanders’ proposal for an additional 6.2 percent tax on employers to pay for “Medicare For All” would be a substantial savings for many employers over the cost of private group health plans. Even an employee making $100,000 a year would only cost his or her employer an additional $6,200. The savings wouldn’t be as great for employees who do not cover their entire family, but except for very high salaried employees, the company would still save money. Likewise the proposed 2.2 percent income-based tax increase on workers would be less for most than the average worker’s share of current premiums. And those who need care and no longer have to pay co-pays would save even more.
What about administrative costs and overhead?
Waldman laments that adding all those extra people to the Medicare rolls will result in a tremendous increase in the bureaucracy needed to administer it. Again, he ignores that when it comes to Medicaid recipients, the bureaucracy already exists, and would just need to be shifted to deal with Medicare. As for Waldman’s claim that money will go to pay bureaucrats and not for patient care? Sorry doc. The Institute For Public Accuracy reported in July 2015 that Medicare’s overhead costs are typically around 2 percent, compared to the 12 to 14 percent that is typical for private insurers. There’s no reason to think that expanding Medicare would lead to increased administrative costs as a percentage of the total cost of the program.
While making his argument that bureaucracy will wipe out any potential savings, Waldman makes this curious statement:
Sanders boasts about all the costs we wouldn’t have to pay when Medicare-for-All eliminates health insurance. Apparently, he doesn’t understand that Medicare works through insurance companies. So, there will be no savings there.
Waldman doesn’t explain what he means by that. Is he talking about optional Medicare supplement insurance, that people purchase to cover the things that Medicare doesn’t pay for? Or maybe he’s talking about the so-called “Medicare Advantage” program, started as an alternative to traditional Medicare and run by private insurers. That program has cost taxpayers more than traditional Medicare. The link that Waldman includes is of no help in figuring out what he is saying, as it leads to an article that doesn’t address his claim at all. The simple fact is that Waldman’s statement that Medicare “works through insurance companies” is a complete and total lie.
“Government takeover of health care” rears its head — again
Waldman concludes with a claim that is absolutely false — that “Medicare For All” means that “the doctor is a government employee. He or she works for Washington; not you.” Bernie’s plan is all about creating a national single payer for health care services. Doctors will continue to work as they do now. If they own their own practice, they will continue to own it. The same for hospitals. Non-profit public hospitals will still be non-profit public hospitals. Private hospitals will still be privately owned. The federal government is not going to take over any of those things. What will happen is that instead of your doctor having one set of paperwork to fill out for Medicare, another for Medicaid, another for Blue Cross, another for Aetna, another for United Health Care, etc, etc, he or she will only have to worry about paperwork for Medicare. But hey, scaring people with this “government takeover of health care” and “pull the plug on grandma” bunk has worked before, so why not bring it back again?
Is Bernie’s Medicare plan perfect? No. What plan or proposal is at the very beginning? But it takes a major leap forward in addressing many of the issues in our health care payment system, and would eventually put Americans in line with most of our western allies when it comes to health care. The main losers would be people like Deane Waldman, who make their money off of convincing others that improving their access to health care is somehow a bad idea.
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