The debate over healthcare and how it should proceed has apparently come down to either keeping what we’ve got, going back to what we had, or Medicare for All. At least, that’s how things are being framed for a coming presidential election. At stake is the cost and delivery of 17.9% of the country’s entire gross domestic product—$ 3.5 trillion in 2017 and heading north from there.
There have been previous attempts, of course, to change healthcare, whether the addition of Medicare and Medicaid under Lyndon Johnson, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful attempt to reshape the healthcare system, the addition of prescription drug coverage to Medicare signed by George W. Bush, or the Affordable Care Act under Barack Obama.
As a country, we periodically seek a better approach to healthcare—this way, that way, but not straying far from where we were. Understandable, to a (small, these days) degree. There is no guarantee that a quick change won’t cause more problems than it solves. Some people like their coverage, it’s true. But a great many do not.
Importantly, the day is coming (if it’s not right here) that most people can’t afford reasonable care. Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored healthcare for a family have reached $ 20,576, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of that, $ 6,015 are paid by the employee and $ 14,561 by the employer.
The problem of cost is immense, especially when overall healthcare in the U.S. ranks as mediocre at best (which doesn’t mean good care isn’t available, but more likely is an indication of how relatively few people obtain it).
But many who have a vested interest in the system as it exists, whether for political or financial gain, loudly exclaim that any sort of solution that involves government as an insurer—like Medicare, which many participants prize given much lower rates than typical market-based programs—becomes untenable. “Can you afford how much taxes will go up?” they say.
Some voices have pushed back and we need more, because the question is a loaded one. Government-sponsored insurance would reduce the need for and expense of private insurance.
At issue is an analytic approach often used in business: the total cost of ownership. When taking up a new technology or operational strategy, a smart company analyzes the full costs. Not just the obvious price tag, but all that accompanying costs. It’s the corporate equivalent of an informed car buyer, who, beyond sticker price, is interested in the likely costs of fuel and maintenance, how well the vehicle maintains price in the used or trade-in markets, reliability, and other factors that represent accompanying expenses.
Taxes under a Medicare for All approach would go up. But, at the same time, commercial premiums come down (even if, as with Medicare, many people buy supplemental insurance to expand coverage). There may lower out-of-pocket costs, as is true in many countries with some sort of national coverage.
There is also an argument for resulting higher worker pay. Companies no longer be paying that $ 14,561 could shift that savings, or at least some, into additional wages or salary. Not increasing pay would effectively be a tax cut, as benefits are part of compensation.
The thought behind healthcare reform like Medicare for All is that it should be possible for the U.S. to do better. To gain improved coverage across the board at lower per-capita prices, as the rest of the developed world has managed to do for decades. People with better care can live better lives, which—and I take this as an article of faith—eventually comes back to communities and the country.
Consideration of changes requires a full understanding of the costs and financial gains throughout the system. Taxes go up, premiums go down, maybe pay increases (should increase), and a sudden illness doesn’t cause automatic financial stress for an individual or a family. Whenever someone makes sweeping claims like “taxes will go up” without context, others should step up and note that it’s like complaining about investing in mass transit without acknowledging that using an automobile to make the same commute will be much more expensive and that one may mean you don’t need the other.