Opinion

WILFORD: Here’s The Truth About ‘Medicare-For-All’

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Andrew Wilford National Taxpayers' Union Foundation
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The first round of Detroit’s Democratic presidential debate was dominated by discussion of health care reform. However, proponents of single-payer health care largely to square with voters about what “Medicare-for-all” would cost.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in particular, struggled to be honest about what Medicare-for-all means. When former Maryland Rep. John Delaney took up the unenviable role of being the adult in the room and warned that Medicare-for-all meant that Americans would lose their private insurance, Warren claimed that this was a “Republican talking point.”

Republican talking point or no, it’s true. Sanders’ “Medicare for All Act” (co-sponsored by Warren and Democratic primary candidates including California Sen. Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker) specifically states that it would become illegal for “a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.” (RELATED: Kamala Harris’ Top Obstacle To Winning The Democratic Nomination? California Democrats)

The reticence to be truthful is understandable from a political perspective. While 71 percent of Americans are ostensibly in favor of Medicare-for-all in generic polling, that number plummets to 37 percent when they are told that they would lose their private insurance.

A similar story played out Tuesday night when moderator Jake Tapper asked Warren if middle-class families would pay more in taxes under Medicare-for-all. Warren dodged, saying that “costs would go up for billionaires and corporations” but that middle-class families would see “total costs” go down.

Yet middle-class families absolutely would pay more under Medicare-for-all. Sanders has proposed a 4 percent tax on all families making more than $29,000 a year. That would actually hit low-income families that are poor enough to have not even made it to middle-class — Pew defines a middle-class household as a household making $45,200 to $135,600 a year. He’s also proposed a flat 7.5 percent payroll tax increase that would be borne by all American workers. Even these proposals come nowhere near the $30-40 trillion that even Sanders admits Medicare-for-all would cost.

When think tanks on the left have gotten involved in scrounging for funds to pay for Medicare-for-all, they’ve presented a more honest, and simultaneously more daunting, picture of what funding Medicare-for-all would require.

For example, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released a budget that purports to pay for Medicare-for-all. Despite the fact that EPI’s $17 trillion estimate for the cost of Medicare-for-all comes laughably short of consensus estimates of the program’s cost, the weight placed on taxpayers would be substantial.

EPI proposes to pay for Medicare-for-all largely by eliminating every tax credit and deduction aside from the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC). That means that every deduction, preferential rate, refundable credit, and deferral in the income tax code would be eliminated. Democrats decrying the impact of capping the State and Local Tax (SALT) on the “middle-class” are suspiciously supportive of the kind of policy that involves $15 trillion in higher tax bills. (RELATED: Democratic Governors Push The Feds To Give Their Richest Residents A Tax Break)

Once again, the unwillingness to be honest with American voters on the part of Sanders and Warren comes from the reality that Americans fall out of love with Medicare-for-all once they are confronted with the particulars. Polling indicates that around 60 percent of Americans oppose Medicare-for-all when told that most American families would have to pay more in taxes.

Democrats who support Medicare-for-all should cut the charade and tell the truth. It’s not free healthcare, it’s an incredibly expensive proposal that would require American taxpayers of all income levels to pay substantially more in taxes than they already do. Don’t hold your breath, though — being honest with taxpayers has never been politicians’ strong suit.

Andrew Wilford (@PolicyWilford) is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fiscal policy analysis and education at all levels of government.


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