The Corner

Health Care

Harris’s “Medicare for All” Plays Us for Suckers

Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) campaigns in San Francisco, Calif., June 1, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Private health insurance plays a large role in the current Medicare program. “Medi-gap” policies cover all or most of the medical bills not paid for by Medicare today. In fact, Part D has come in under its anticipated costs precisely because the drug benefit features robust competition among private insurance companies.

That mixed system works well generally. Hence, socialist Democrats believe that it must be destroyed.

Currently proposed “Medicare for All” schemes would accomplish the goal by outlawing most private insurance within a few years. Enter Harris. In a lame attempt at triangulation, she describes her plan as permitting private insurance to co-exist alongside an all-encompassing federal single-payer entitlement. From her bylined description published at Medium:

We will allow private insurers to offer Medicare plans as a part of this system that adhere to strict Medicare requirements on costs and benefits. This would function similar to how private Medicare plans work today, which cover about a third of Medicare seniors, and operate within the Medicare system. Medicare will set the rules of the road for these plans, including price and quality, and private insurance companies will play by those rules, not the other way around. This preserves the options that seniors have today and expands options to all Americans, while also telling insurance companies they don’t run the show. . .

Preserve, schmeserve. This proposal actually intends to drive the private sector out of health insurance without technically mandating it. Look at what the plans would have to cover (her emphasis):

Let’s expand it to all Americans and give everyone access to comprehensive health care. Medicare for All will cover all medically necessary services, including emergency room visits, doctor visits, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment, and comprehensive reproductive health care services. . .

Under my Medicare for All plan, we will also expand the program to include other benefits Americans desperately need that will save money in the long run such as an expanded mental health program including telehealth and easier access to early diagnosis and treatment, and innovative patient programs to help people identify the right doctor and understand how to navigate the health system.

Imagine the premiums!

Medicare runs at a loss already. In fact, the current program is expected to go into the red around 2026. The government can absorb such losses. Harris knows that the private sector cannot.

To ensure that the private health insurance sector withers, Harris would require private companies to receive less in compensation than the plan will cost to operate! (My emphasis.)

Unlike the current system, private plans in the new Medicare system will be held to stricter consumer protection standards than they are today, such as  getting reimbursed less than what the Medicare plan will cost to operate, to ensure that they are delivering meaningful value and unable to profit off of gaming consumers or the government.

Essentially, we would allow private insurance to offer a plan in the Medicare system, but they will be subject to strict requirements to ensure it lowers costs and expands services. If they want to play by our rules, they can be in the system. If not, they have to get out.

And get out they will.

Ensuring that the program would break the treasury, Harris also promises not to increase taxes on the middle class to defray the increased costs to the government:

One of Senator Sanders’ options is to tax households making above $29,000 an additional 4% income-based premium. I believe this hits the middle class too hard.

That’s why I propose that we exempt households making below $100,000, along with a higher income threshold for middle-class families living in high-cost areas.

The difference would be paid by taxing stock and other such financial transactions. That’ll be great for the economy! Higher taxes for thee, but not for me.

Harris’s plan presents a distinction without a difference to the other authoritarian single-payer plans already proposed by Sanders and in the House. She is trying to play us for suckers. It’s up to us whether we let her.

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