One of the constant themes of this interminable Democratic primary is the incessant hand-wringing and tut-tutting about the cost of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ signature plan for universal healthcare, Medicare For All, which is also supported by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“BuT hOw aRe yOu goNnA pAy foR iT?” gripes one Very Serious Debate Moderator after another, usually directly after a discussion on keeping U.S troops deployed overseas indefinitely that inevitably never wonders about how many billions of dollars are squandered on our endless, fruitless wars.
Critics and those beholden to the insurance industry love pointing to the cost projections of a universal healthcare program that covers 300 million people and then demand an answer for “how are you gonna pay for it” then and there, which you’ll notice never gets asked of any other candidates’ plans for anything else.
Similarly absent from those discussions is any consideration for how much the government already spends on propping up the blood-sucking insurance companies with billions of taxpayer subsidies only to be rewarded an utterly broken, dysfunctional, and appallingly inhumane for-profit healthcare system that leaves millions of people uninsured and sends hundreds of thousands of people into medical bankruptcy every year.
But contrary to the hysteria you usually hear in the media, a new study from experts at the Yale School of Public Health, University of Florida, and University of Maryland School of Medicine finds that instead of “bankrupting the country” as one contemptuous CNN debate moderator put it, Senator Sanders’ plan would save the country some $458 billion every year.
But more importantly, the study shows it would save 68,000 lives and 1.73 million life-years while extending healthcare to the 37 million Americans who are left out in the cold by private insurance.
By applying the fees negotiated by Medicare across the board, we can save over $100 billion a year by reducing hospital and clinical service fees, which currently make up one-third of all healthcare expenditures in the United States. The excessive and arbitrary cost of American healthcare services varies wildly from place to place and doesn’t correspond to the quality of the care that is received.
The study notes that the average cost of giving birth in the United States is a staggering $14,910 compared to just $2333 in Spain — while American neonatal mortality is twice that of Spain’s. Fixed rates are projected to save 5.54% of hospital and 7.38% of physician reimbursement fees.
Social media is replete with horror stories about navigating the byzantine labyrinth of insurance company billing and the endless tricks they try to pull to get out of paying for anything. By consolidating billing into a unified system, the study projects we will cut the $768 billion cost of billing and administrative tasks by $284 billion. If we do so, we can cut out another $35 billion of losses from unpaid fees and cut down on the overwhelming paperwork that exhausts physicians and sends patients up the wall.
Me: The bill is for my wife’s recovery from a c-section. Otherwise we could’ve gone home. Why isn’t that on her insurance?
Hospital: This was in the nursery. All of the bills go on the baby’s insurance.
Me: The bills literally say (wife’s name) as the patient!
— Chip Stewart (@MediaLawProf) December 15, 2019
The study finds that by consolidating all insurance schemes into the Medicare framework, we could save $219 billion more dollars by eliminating “redundant corporate functions and the truncation of top-heavy salary architecture of insurance companies.”
It would cap the excessive salaries raked in by health insurance executives at $210,700 a year — the salary of the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary — instead of the outrageous $20 or so million a year pulled in by top health insurance executives.
The use of one unified database of healthcare charges would also make it easier to detect fraud, which leeches an astounding $85.7 billion a year.
If Medicare is allowed to negotiate prices like the Veterans’ Affairs department is, we could further save another $180 billion on the $469 billion we currently spend on wildly overinflated prescription pharmaceutical prices that the drug industry currently extorts out of the American people.
But far more important than any dollar figure are the lives that will be saved.
Far too often, the debate over Medicare for All is framed in deeply and deliberately dishonest terms from a political establishment that relies on the blood money from healthcare executives to fill their war chests and from an instinctively centrist corporate media machine diametrically opposed to any substantial changes in the status quo.
But there’s no denying that our current healthcare system is a for-profit monstrosity that destroys lives and condemns tens of thousands of innocent people to early deaths by preventable causes while funneling our hard-earned tax dollars into the pockets of greedy health insurance stockholders.
While the Affordable Care Act was a godsend to millions of Americans, the sad truth is that it is ultimately a compromise that artificially props up a predatory and heartless insurance industry whose primary concerns are their bottom lines and not the well-being of the American people.
It’s time for America to join the rest of the developed world and offer publicly-funded healthcare for all of its citizens.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.