Staff Columnist

That 'Medicare for all' study doesn't say what you think it says

Did a Koch-funded group really conclude single-payer insurance is a good idea?

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers a question as someone holds up a sign that reads
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers a question as someone holds up a sign that reads "Medicare 4 All" during her Johnson County Town Meeting as part of her 99 county tour at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Friday, Sep. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Medicare for all quickly has become the next big thing for Democrats. Too bad their crusade for universal health care might end up putting care out of reach for more Iowans.

Support for a national single-payer health care system has made enormous political strides during the current campaign cycle. J.D. Scholten, the Democrat running in the 4th District, says Medicare for all should be the nation’s “long-term goal.” He campaigned this week with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the top proponent of Medicare for all.

Courtney Rowe and Pete D’Alessandro, Democrats who ran in the 1st District and 3rd District primaries earlier this year, ran on Medicare for all platforms. Cathy Glasson, who finished second in the gubernatorial primary, proposed a statewide single-payer health care program in her campaign.

Last year, Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, signed on as a co-sponsor to the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” joining more than 100 other Democrats. In full disclosure, I used to work for Loebsack’s Republican challenger.

Around the nation, the Medicare for All Congressional Caucus counts 76 Democratic representatives among its members. About half of Democrats running in contested U.S. House races this year support Medicare for all, according to survey data published this week by National Nurses United, an advocacy group that supports the plan.

However, while Medicare for all would give every American health insurance, it would not necessarily ensure Americans actually have access to health care providers.

The case for a nationalized health insurance system got a boost earlier this year when the right-leaning Mercatus Center published an analysis of Sanders’ Medicare for All Act. Headlines blared the program would save Americans trillions of dollars, and liberals noted with glee that the research outfit the study came from is funded by the Koch family, billionaires who support many conservative and libertarian causes. Sanders himself posted a video online, thanking the Koch brothers for the study.

The problem is the study didn’t say what leftists thought it said.


The study did find overall national health spending, both public and private, might decrease as much as $2 trillion over a 10-year period under the most favorable assumptions. However, the author notes, “It is likely that the actual cost of M4A would be substantially greater than has been estimated from its legislative text.”

But here’s the crucial detail Sanders and his friends seem to miss in these studies - their proposal would keep payments to health care providers the same as in the current Medicare system, which is about 40 percent less than private insurers pay now, and often lower than the actual cost of providing care. Many health care professionals would drop out of the system, since they wouldn’t be able to make any money.

In Iowa, many communities already suffer from a lack of providers. Paying them 40 percent less certainly wouldn’t help. There may be a workable plan for national health insurance, but Sanders’ proposal isn’t it.

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