OPINION: Socialized Medicine — The Orphan Of The New Deal

Getty Images/ Chip Somodevilla and Win McNamee

Jim Martin Chairman, 60 Plus Association

You have to give credit to American progressives for their tenacity. They play the long game, keeping their fingers on the pulse on the nation while patiently awaiting new opportunities to inflict their policies on the nation.

This is precisely what we are seeing today with the battle cry of “Medicare for All,” raised by people from progressive agitators like Bernie Sanders to some House Republicans. It is the latest bumper sticker policy that tax-and-spend liberals see as the answer to their century-old dream of socialized medicine. 

Most Americans know Medicare as the primary means by which seniors and the disabled can have access to quality health care. While that reflects its structure and current purpose, its origins are far less altruistic.

Franklin Roosevelt wanted desperately to impose a system of socialized medicine in the 1930s but was thwarted by the political impossibility of simultaneously moving the Social Security Act and single-payer health care through Congress. Feeling more pressure to pass Social Security, FDR abandoned socialized medicine, making it the Orphan of The New Deal. 

Thirty years later, Lyndon Johnson saw an opportunity and took it. He shared the vision of socialized medicine and used his masterful horse-trading skills to move Medicare through Congress in 1965. Fellow Democrat and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills gave LBJ the added bonus of Medicaid. While Mills opposed single-payer health care, he came up with Medicaid as something of a firewall, believing that coverage for the poor would take away the last liberal argument for socialized medicine. 

Alas, Mills’s firewall appears to be giving way as liberals propel Medicare into the political discussion, and you can bet your entire 401(k) it will be front and center in the 2020 presidential race. But the grim reality is that the birth of Medicare for All will be the death of Medicare for America’s seniors. 

Look at the system today. Medicare accounted for 15 percent of all federal spending in 2017, with payments amounting to more than $700 billion, a whopping 65-percent increase since 2007. Medicare enrollment in July 2018 was estimated at $59.1 million, and it will continue to grow with the increasing rate of Americans reaching retirement age.

Given these stresses on Medicare, a thoughtful person might consider finding ways to make sure its intended beneficiaries are protected. But progressives appear oblivious to these realities and now agitate to extend Medicare to more than 325 million people. 

If you think Medicare is expensive now, just wait until it’s free for everybody. The early estimates of the cost of Medicare for All are north of $32 trillion over the next decade. Staggering as this number is, it’s probably a lowball figure. Estimating the future cost of Medicare has been an exercise in futility and failure from the very beginning.

When LBJ was pushing Medicare through Congress in 1964, his administration guessed the program would have an inflation-adjusted cost of about $12 billion by 1990. The actual cost was $110 billion, nine times greater than the estimates. It would be nothing short of delusional to believe the accuracy of today’s estimates of future spending on Medicare for All. 

Using Medicare as the means of transitioning America to socialized medicine would cause unimaginable harm to those it was designed to help. We’re told almost daily that other industrialized nations have single payer health care, so we should follow suit. But what we’re rarely told is that these systems invariably resort to rationing health services to accommodate such an enormous base of patients.

When health care rationing begins, who will receive priority for care, the 20-year-old with 40 or 50 years of working and taxpaying ahead of them or the 80-year-old retiree? 

Liberals have managed to find a health care scheme that’s even worse than the Affordable Care Act.

While Medicare for All would finally provide a home for the Orphan of The New Deal, it would destroy any semblance of Medicare’s purpose and create unfathomable burdens on American taxpayers and the federal budget. It’s a recipe for bankruptcy and not a trade-off worth making. 

Jim Martin is the founder and president of the 60 Plus Association. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.