Breaking News
January 18, 2019 - New study shows link between secondhand smoke and cardiac arrhythmia
January 18, 2019 - DZIF scientists reveal problems with available diagnostics for Zika and chikungunya virus
January 18, 2019 - Breast cancers more likely to metastasize in young women within 10 years of giving birth
January 18, 2019 - Blood vessels can now be created perfectly in a petri dish
January 18, 2019 - Study identifies prominent socioeconomic and racial disparities in health behavior in Indiana
January 18, 2019 - Young-Onset Type 2 Diabetes Tied to Increased Hospitalization Risk
January 18, 2019 - For-profit nursing schools associated with lower performance on nurse licensure test
January 18, 2019 - Considering the culture of consent in medicine
January 18, 2019 - Researchers identify comprehensive guidelines for managing severe atopic dermatitis
January 18, 2019 - Analyzing proteins in blister fluid may classify burn severity more accurately
January 18, 2019 - Study finds higher suicide rates among youth who were Medicaid enrollees
January 18, 2019 - Opioid drugs often overprescribed to children for pain relief, say CHOP surgeons
January 18, 2019 - New biodegradable wound dressing material accelerates healing
January 18, 2019 - Life in Space May Take Toll on Spinal Muscles
January 18, 2019 - Bulldogs’ screw tails linked to human genetic disease
January 18, 2019 - Immunotherapy target identified for pediatric cancers
January 18, 2019 - Financial stress may increase heart disease risk in African Americans
January 18, 2019 - Scientists solve another piece of Ebola virus puzzle
January 18, 2019 - New project finds how endocrine disruptors interfere with thyroid functions
January 18, 2019 - Research finds decline in ketone body utilization when coronary circulation is reduced
January 18, 2019 - Let’s map our DNA and save billions each year in health costs
January 18, 2019 - AI demonstrates potential to identify irregular heart rhythms as well as humans
January 17, 2019 - Study shows link between air pollution and increased risk of sleep apnea
January 17, 2019 - Neck-strengthening exercises can protect athletes from concussions
January 17, 2019 - Computer model shows how to better control MRSA outbreaks
January 17, 2019 - Pain is unpleasant, and now scientists have identified the set of responsible neurons
January 17, 2019 - CUIMC Celebrates 2018-2019
January 17, 2019 - Study reveals potential pathway for endothelial cells to avoid apoptosis
January 17, 2019 - Hamilton Storage launches LabElite DeCapper SL to expand LabElite product family
January 17, 2019 - Location of epigenetic changes co-locate with genetic signal causing psychartric disorder
January 17, 2019 - Researchers awarded 6.1 million euros to address female fertility problems
January 17, 2019 - Counseling appointments fail to reduce weight gain during pregnancy, shows study
January 17, 2019 - Contraceptive patch that could provide 6 months of contraception within seconds
January 17, 2019 - Yeast model may pave way for development of novel therapies for metabolic disorders
January 17, 2019 - Study determines impact of antibiotic perturbation of the gut microbiome on skeletal health
January 17, 2019 - Cardiometabolic Risk Up With Tourette, Chronic Tic Disorder
January 17, 2019 - Hong Kong scientists claim ‘broad-spectrum’ antiviral breakthrough
January 17, 2019 - Researchers discover the brain cells that make pain unpleasant | News Center
January 17, 2019 - Hepatitis Is Common in New Cancer Patients
January 17, 2019 - Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Drug Prices Are Rising Again. Is Someone Going To Do Something About It?
January 17, 2019 - Smoking significantly increases your biological age, study shows
January 17, 2019 - B-group vitamins may be beneficial for people with first episode psychosis
January 17, 2019 - Researchers demonstrate how manganese produces parkinsonian syndrome
January 17, 2019 - Researchers suggest link between personality type and attitude towards others’ bodies
January 17, 2019 - Mutant mice administered with cocaine failed to exhibit hyperactivity, shows study
January 17, 2019 - Health Tip: Understanding a Heart Murmur
January 17, 2019 - Gut protein mutations shield against spikes in glucose
January 17, 2019 - Engineered immune cells target broad range of pediatric solid tumors in mice | News Center
January 17, 2019 - Study provides comprehensive description of associations between mental disorders
January 17, 2019 - Study finds link between high pesticide exposure and poor sense of smell among farmers
January 17, 2019 - Many cancer patients have undiagnosed hepatitis
January 17, 2019 - New study finds only 13% of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions to be appropriate
January 17, 2019 - Stem cell-based approach to diabetes offers hope for treatment
January 17, 2019 - New project receives €8.65 million from EU and Canada to ease genomic, health data sharing
January 17, 2019 - Improvements in pharmacological study to fight cognitive impairment in schizophrenia
January 17, 2019 - Study looks at trends over time in oral antibiotic prescribing by dermatologists
January 17, 2019 - Most substance use disorder treatment facilities do not offer medication treatment
January 17, 2019 - Multiple sclerosis could benefit from stem cell therapy
January 17, 2019 - Researchers manipulate T cells to improve transplant success
January 17, 2019 - Put away your rulers and reach for your phone
January 17, 2019 - Mindfulness linked with fewer menopausal symptoms
January 17, 2019 - Integrated care to women with PMADs offered at several levels
January 17, 2019 - Researchers identify MANF as a rejuvenating factor in parabiosis
January 17, 2019 - Truncal mutations study suggests new direction in origins of cancer
January 17, 2019 - Beckman Coulter launches new ClearLLab 10C System for clinical flow cytometry lab
January 17, 2019 - Effects of linoleic acid on the body are largely dependent on genes, shows study
January 17, 2019 - Pre-injury exercise reduces damage to both muscles and nerves, study finds
January 17, 2019 - Minimizing Antibody Size to Maximize Research Potential
January 17, 2019 - Research finds large genome in tiny forest defoliator
January 17, 2019 - Technology helps reduce the yearning for unhealthy food
January 17, 2019 - Imec develops prototype cardiovascular device
January 17, 2019 - New Drug Application for Insomnia Disorder Treatment Lemborexant Submitted in the United States
January 17, 2019 - What you should know about teeth whitening
January 17, 2019 - Why Older Adults Should Eat More Protein (And Not Overdo Protein Shakes)
January 17, 2019 - Colorectal cancer mortality rates predicted to increase globally
January 17, 2019 - Scientists discover mutational signatures of tumor hypoxia
January 17, 2019 - New evidence shows how fever alters immune cells
January 17, 2019 - Researchers find new class of blood pressure-regulating peptides in vampire bat venom
January 17, 2019 - Promega to exhibit new Maxwell RSC48 platform at 2019 Festival of Genomics
January 17, 2019 - Study pinpoints immune cells that could be key to tackling hypertension
Politicians hop aboard ‘Medicare-for-all’ train, destination unknown

Politicians hop aboard ‘Medicare-for-all’ train, destination unknown

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

After decades in the political wilderness, “Medicare-for-all” and single-payer health care are suddenly popular. The words appear in political advertisements and are cheered at campaign rallies — even in deep-red states. They are promoted by a growing number of high-profile Democratic candidates, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Rep. Beto O’Rourke in Texas.

Republicans are concerned enough that this month President Donald Trump wrote a scathing op-ed essay that portrayed Medicare for all as a threat to older people and to American freedom.

It is not that. But what exactly these proposals mean to many of the people who say they support them remains unclear.

As a renegade candidate for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opened the door to such drastic reform. Now, with Republicans showing little aptitude for fixing an expensive, dysfunctional health system, more voters, doctors and politicians are walking through it.

More than 120 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill called the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, up from 62 in 2016. And at least 70 have joined Capitol Hill’s new Medicare for All Caucus.

But some worry the terms “Medicare-for-all” and “single-payer” are at risk of becoming empty campaign slogans. In precise terms, Medicare-for-all means bringing all Americans under the government’s insurance program now reserved for people 65 and over, while single-payer health care would have the government pay everyone’s medical bills. But few politicians are speaking precisely.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said, “People read into ‘Medicare-for-all’ what they want to read into it.”

For every candidate with a clear proposal in mind, another uses the phrases as a proxy for voter frustration. The risk, some critics say, is that “Medicare-for-all” could become a Democratic version of the Republican “repeal and replace” slogan — a vote-getter that does not translate to political action because there is neither agreement about what it means nor a viable plan.

“If you’re on the left, you have to have something on health care to say at town halls,” said David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund. “So you say this and move on. That’s part of the motivation.”

Dr. Carol Paris, the president of Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group, said she has fielded a number of calls from candidates asking for tutorials on Medicare-for-all.

“I’m heartened, but not persuaded” that all the high-profile talk will result in any action, she said. She worries about what she called “faux ‘Medicare-for-all’ plans” that don’t live up to the mantra.

Polling highlights health care as a top voter concern, and pressure is building for politicians to take meaningful action that could redress the pain caused by personal health care costs that continue to rise faster than inflation.

Maybe that action would be negotiating lower drug prices or fixing flaws in the insurance system that allow for surprise medical bills and high out-of-pocket costs. Republican candidates mostly continue to bad-mouth “Obamacare” as the root of all problems in American health care (of course, it’s not), and some still push to repeal it. They tend to offer only vague assurances that, for example, they will guarantee that people with preexisting conditions can find affordable insurance — proposals that do not withstand expert scrutiny.

But more and more voters seem to think the country needs more radical change.

In polling this year, 51 percent of Americans and 74 percent of Democrats said they support a single-payer plan. Surveys suggest growing enthusiasm among doctors, too, with more than half in favor.

Yet experts suggest voter support may not withstand warnings of tax increases or changes to employer-sponsored insurance. A 2017 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that support for Medicare-for-all dropped when respondents were told that their taxes might increase or that the government might get “too much control over health care” — a common Republican talking point. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Despite initial enthusiasm, Vermont’s governor let a state single-payer plan die in part because it was calculated that it would require an 11.5 percent payroll tax on businesses and a state income tax of up to 9.5 percent.

The broader goal — affordable, universal health care — could be achieved by a range of strategies. For models, we can look to nations that have generally achieved better health outcomes, for less money, than the United States.

Canada and Britain come particularly close to true single-payer. Their governments pay medical bills with money raised through taxes and have monopolistic negotiating power over prices. But after that, the systems differ.

In Canada, which is Sanders’ inspiration, the government provides health insurance for most medical needs, with no out-of-pocket costs. People can, and often do, buy a second, private plan for any unmet health needs, such as prescription drugs.

Britain goes a step further. Its government owns hospitals and employs many specialists via the National Health Service. A small private system exists, catering mainly to wealthier people seeking faster access to elective procedures.

Other countries achieve universal health care (or nearly so), but without single-payer. France and Germany have kept an insurance system intact but heavily regulate health care, including by setting the prices for medical procedures and drugs, and requiring all citizens to purchase coverage.

These more incremental options have not captured the American imagination to the same extent as Medicare-for-all. But adopting such a system would require the biggest shift, with significant implications for taxes, patient choice, doctors’ salaries and hospital revenue.

Enthusiastic politicians sometimes gloss over those consequences. For example, Liz Watson, a Democrat running in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, suggested the impact on doctors’ income was not much of a concern, because they would see a “huge recovery” on expenses since they would no longer need to navigate the bureaucracy of insurance paperwork. But analysts across the board agree single-payer would cut revenue for doctors — many say by about 12 percent on average.

And many voters seem confused by the fundamentals. In polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of Americans said they believed they would be able to keep their current insurance under a single-payer plan, which is not the case.

Optimism without specifics carries risk, as President Barack Obama learned after promising that people wouldn’t lose their doctors under the Affordable Care Act. That promise haunted the Obama administration — it was singled out as PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2013 and is still mocked by members of the Trump White House.

There’s also the thorny issue of how Medicare-for-all would affect the thousands of jobs at private insurers. “We have an insurance industry in Omaha, and people say, ‘I worry about those jobs,'” said Kara Eastman, a Democrat running on Medicare-for-all in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. She suggested people could be retrained, saying there would have to be “repurposing of positions.”

Critics of Medicare-for-all, on the other hand, tend to exaggerate the costs of single-payer: “Denmark’s top tax bracket is nearly 60 percent!” (True, although that’s largely not because of health care.) “Doctors’ incomes will drop 40 percent!” (True, specialists in private practice would probably see pay cuts, but primary care doctors could well see an increase.)

Canadians generally pay higher taxes than Americans do — specifically a goods and services tax, and higher taxes on the wealthy. In Germany, working people pay 7.5 percent of income as a contribution toward comprehensive insurance.

But many Americans pay far more than that when you count premiums, deductibles, copayments and out-of-network charges. Estimates of the tax increases required to support a Medicare-for-all or single-payer system are all over the map, depending on how the plan is structured, the prices paid to providers and drugmakers, and the generosity of benefits.

As a politician famously noted, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Some candidates do have clear proposals in mind. Ocasio-Cortez, for example, running for the House from New York’s 14th District, is firm: a single, government-run health plan that covers everyone with no copayments or deductibles and perhaps allows Americans to buy supplemental private coverage. It’s the Canadian approach, textbook single-payer.

But many who back Medicare-for-all are vague or open to incremental approaches, like a “public option” that maintains the current insurance structure while allowing people to buy into Medicare.

O’Rourke casts Medicare-for-all as a starting point for discussion. But he said that what matters most is “high-quality, guaranteed universal health care.” Getting there, he added, “will inevitably require some compromise” — like a public option. Notably, he has not signed on as a co-sponsor of the Medicare-for-all bill because that plan does not allow for-profit providers to participate.

Jared Golden, a Democratic House candidate from Maine’s 2nd District, says in his campaign materials that he favors “something like Medicare for all,” but he clarified that at least initially, he would argue to lower the Medicare eligibility age, a change that wonks often call “Medicare for more.”

And the Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce, who is running to replace Speaker Paul Ryan in the House, said he would support a public option or lowering the eligibility age for Medicare. “I don’t want to say that there’s only one way to go about it,” Bryce said.

But many other candidates — both for Congress and for governorships — who are talking “Medicare-for-all” on the campaign trail either did not acknowledge or declined multiple requests to be interviewed on the subject. They include Andrew Gillum, who is running for governor in Florida; Gina Ortiz Jones of Texas’ 23rd District; the California candidate for governor Gavin Newsom; Massachusetts 7th District candidate Ayanna Pressley; and Pennsylvania 1st District candidate Scott Wallace.

Lake, the pollster, suggested that policy details simply aren’t as relevant in a midterm year and that for now we shouldn’t expect a candidate’s support for Medicare-for-all to be anything more than a way to signal his or her values. But she suggested that will change in the run-up to 2020, adding, “When we head into the presidential election, people will probably be pickier and want more details.”

That gives politicians and voters a few years to decide what they mean and what they want when they say they support Medicare-for-all or single-payer health care. For now, it’s hard to read too much into promises.

Paris, who lives in Nashville, said she was surprised and excited to hear that her representative, Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat, had signed up as a co-sponsor of the Medicare for all bill.

“I told him, ‘I’m dumbfounded,'” she recalled.

His answer? “Don’t get too excited.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles