Health Care

‘Medicare for All’ Would Be Terrible for Seniors

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduces the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
Democrats’ ‘Medicare for All’ would impose enormous tax increases on all, including seniors, to pick up all medical costs currently borne by employers and those of working age.

In a rare op-ed, President Trump recently suggested that “Medicare for All” proposals gaining popularity among Democrats would “demolish” the Medicare benefits that seniors expect to rely on. This provoked Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to issue an angry rebuttal scrawled in red pen, in which he denied that Democrats supported single-payer health care and declared suggestions that Democrats had plans to outlaw private health insurance “NOT TRUE.”

Schumer’s outburst was a scream of despair from an electorally oriented Democratic leader at the idea that his party supports a single-payer health-care scheme. But his quarrel is with those who are capturing his party, not those pointing out what it’s pushing. While most members of Schumer’s Senate Democratic caucus may be opposed to single-payer, 123 of 193 House Democrats have cosponsored sweeping “Medicare for All” legislation to make the federal government the sole purchaser of America’s health-care services — and the party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls are not far behind.

In truth, Medicare is a generous benefit for retired and disabled Americans largely paid for by those who are in work — a subsidy worth an average of $13,087 per beneficiary per year. “Medicare for All” would flip this arrangement — imposing enormous tax increases on all, including seniors, to pick up all medical costs currently borne by employers and those able to work.

Although Schumer suggested that seniors might welcome reforms that “would expand benefits, eliminate premiums, reduce cost sharing,” having taxpayers assume these expenses for all citizens would be enormously expensive. Indeed, Schumer revealingly didn’t dispute the estimated tax increase of $32.6 trillion over ten years (over $26,000 per household per year) cited in Trump’s op-ed, which would be required to fund “Medicare for All.”

Such a tax increase would vastly exceed the value of expanded benefits to retirees — even if its burden were distributed so that most seniors faced smaller-than-average tax hikes. Seniors are already able to cover all their out-of-pocket costs by purchasing Medigap’s Plan F at an average premium of $1,712 per year. The experience of the 1989 Medicare Catastrophic Act debacle suggests that seniors would likely react with outrage at being forced to provide additional coverage for Medicare beneficiaries who currently choose not to purchase it — to say nothing of how they might react to being forced to pick up a large portion of the medical costs of so many more Americans who are currently covered by employer-sponsored insurance.

Spending on health care as a share of GDP in the United States (8.5 percent in 2015) already exceeds that in the United Kingdom (7.9 percent) and Canada (7.7 percent). The main difference between those systems is that the U.S. focuses public assistance on those who would not otherwise be able to provide for themselves: the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

As targeted programs, Medicare and Medicaid therefore serve to supplement, rather than to supplant, private spending on health care. This allows them to be more generous to those in greatest need: Low-income Americans, including 8 million Medicare beneficiaries, already receive comprehensive, publicly funded benefits without premiums or out-of-pocket costs. Unlike residents of Britain or Canada, where government funds must cover all, Americans do not face such long waits for surgery, have more access to life-saving drug therapies, and have much lower mortality rates following comparable major incidents such as heart attacks or strokes.

By destroying America’s system of focused public assistance, “Medicare for All” would necessarily subject those currently enrolled in the program to similar restrictions in timely access to quality care. Even with an extra $32.6 trillion in tax revenue, the “Medicare for All” proposal would cover only 87 percent of hospital costs — leaving two thirds of facilities in the red, forcing them to cut services in a struggle to keep their doors open.

Under current law, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of Medicare will already increase from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2018 to 6.8 percent in 30 years, as a result of rising medical costs and the continued aging of the population. While finding a way to fund existing promises may be less exciting than making new ones, any politician who endorses proposals to shift Medicare’s focus away from seniors will undoubtedly be putting their access to quality medical care at risk.

Chris Pope — Chris Pope is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
Film & TV

A Sublime Christian Masterpiece of a Film

‘There are two ways through life -- the way of nature and the way of grace,” remarks the saintly mother at the outset of The Tree of Life, one of the most awe-inspiring films of the 21st century. She continues: Grace doesn’t try please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked, accepts insults ... Read More
PC Culture

Changing Reality with Words

The reinvention of vocabulary can often be more effective than any social protest movement. Malarial swamps can become healthy “wetlands.” Fetid “dumps” are often rebranded as green “landfills.” Global warming was once a worry about too much heat. It implied that man-made carbon emissions had so ... Read More