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The Nation: Medicare-for-All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care

August 15, 2017


Within the broad Democratic coalition, it’s pretty clear that the discussion of health care has shifted to the left. Mainstream figures like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a potential presidential candidate in 2020, are embracing single payer. Representative John Conyers’s Medicare-for-All bill currently has 115 Democratic co-sponsors in the House. And Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer recently said that single payer is now “on the table.” Assuming we have free and fair elections in the future, and Democrats regain power at some point, this is all very good news for single-payer advocates.

But that momentum is tempered by the fact that the activist left, which has a ton of energy at the moment, has for the most part failed to grapple with the difficulties of transitioning to a single-payer system. A common view is that since every other advanced country has a single-payer system, and the advantages of these schemes are pretty clear, the only real obstacles are a lack of imagination, or feckless Democrats and their donors. But the reality is more complicated.

For one thing, a near-consensus has developed around using Medicare to achieve single-payer health care, but Medicare isn’t a single-payer system in the sense that people usually think of it. This year, around a third of all enrollees purchased a private plan under the Medicare Advantage program. These private policies have grown in popularity every year, in part because the field has been tilted against the traditional, government-run program. Medicare Advantage plans must have a cap on out-of-pocket costs, for example, while the public program does not. Around one-in-four Medicare enrollees also purchase some sort of “Medigap” policy to cover out-of-pocket costs and stuff that the program doesn’t cover, and then there are both public and private prescription drug plans.

Read the full article at The Nation.