CBO Report Shows Medicare-for-All Costs Less Than Previously Thought

If there is anything the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic fiasco has exposed, it’s our societal inequities.

When it comes to public health, the most obvious inequity lies in the reality that we spend the most money on healthcare–20% of our national income–of any Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country on the planet, yet we are not the healthiest country.

Most countries offer healthcare as a human right to all its citizens.

But of the 25 wealthiest nations, the United States is the only one that fails to do this.

The response opponents to a Medicare-for-All-type single-payer national healthcare system similar to what Canada practices is, “We can’t afford it,” or “How do we pay for it?

Interestingly, though, that question is seldom if ever proposed whenever we feel the need to increase the military budget, print money to provide $2 trillion in economic relief to keep corporations afloat, dole out perpetual subsidies to the world’s most profitable corporations, or permanently cut taxes on those same corporations and their overlords to the tune of $1.5 trillion.

Those who complain “We can’t afford it” are often the same who also boast about us being the richest nation in the world.

But they can’t have it both ways.

The “We can’t afford it” argument is, of course, a lie.

We have always been able to afford to provide every man, woman, and child born in this country healthcare as a human right.

Now a new report out of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week illustrates that, not only could we always afford it, but Medicare-for-All could cost even less than what the most ardent Medicare-for-All advocates propose.

According to the progressive think tank People’s Policy Project founder and president, Matt Bruenig, who characterized the report “more exhaustive than any other recent study on the subject“:

“Modeling the cost of a single-payer program is relatively straightforward. You begin with the status quo healthcare system and then make educated guesses about the following questions:

    1. How many more units of healthcare services will be demanded and supplied when price barriers are removed?
    2. How much more efficient will health insurance administration be after the enrollment and payment systems are radically simplified?
    3. How much money will be saved by reducing the payment rates for healthcare providers and drug companies?”

Upon the several single-payer models researchers examined, four fully implemented by 2030 would save the country from $42 billion to $743 billion in just that year.

The model closest to the Medicare-for-All framework most advocates support is based on low payment rates and low cost sharing, producing $650 billion in savings in 2030.

Bruenig explains:

“The CBO finds that the current Medicare administrative costs that are often touted by advocates are actually higher than the administrative costs you would expect in a single-payer system because a large share of those costs are tied up in tasks like eligibility determination and collection of Medicare Part B premiums that would no longer exist in a Medicare-for-All system.”

He adds:

“The barriers to the policy are not technical deficiencies or costs, but rather political opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats who would rather spend more money to provide less healthcare.”

It’s just a matter of priorities.

The neo-liberal shift over the past forty years has prioritized Wall Street, the defense industry, and generally any individual or corporation ideologically committed enough to capitalize on the “money=free speech” argument the Supreme Court agreed is constitutional.

That includes health insurance companies.

Consider that over the past twelve years we have spent in the neighborhood between $20-35 trillion on corporate bailouts.

All that time we could have been providing healthcare.

Right now, combining Medicare, Medicaid, insurance premiums, and out-of-pocket costs, we are expected to spend about $52 trillion on health care during the next decade.

But Medicare-for-All would eliminate premiums and out-of-pocket costs, reducing the price tag to between $20 trillion and $36 trillion over the same period.

That happens to be same amount the federal government set aside for corporate welfare since 2008.

After the 2008 financial crash, we granted $700 billion big banks.

The Federal Reserve committed between $16 trillion and $29 trillion to large financial institutions.

Lawmakers recently handed $4 trillion in pandemic relief to large corporations.

Two years ago, Republicans jumped at the opportunity to cite a Koch Brothers-funded Mercatus Center study to prove once and for all single-payer health care is too expensive, despite its economic advantages, and popularity among the public and U.S. lawmakers.

But what those attacks conveniently omitted is the fact that in their attempt to discredit single-payer, the monolithic Kochs accidentally made a case for it.

Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders was quick to point out:

“Let me thank the Koch brothers, of all people, for sponsoring a study that shows that Medicare- for-All would save the American people $2 trillion dollars. I suspect that that is not what the Koch brothers intended to do, but that is what’s in the study of the Mercatus Center. At a time when the United States spends far more per capita on healthcare than any other country on Earth, almost 18 percent of our GDP, a Medicare-or-All healthcare system would save the average family significant sums of money.”

Even a Fox News poll (yes, Fox News) shows 72% of voters favor single-payer healthcare, or, as Fox puts it “government-run” healthcare.

The time has come for us to join the rest of our capitalist allies unafraid of dabbling in a little Democratic Socialism.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

Image credit: The Other 98% via truthorfiction.com

Image credit: progressive-charlestown.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.