Bernie Sanders healthcare math doesn’t add up, so he’s resorted to lying

By | February 26, 2020

When Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders couldn’t get the math on his healthcare plan to add up in Tuesday night’s debate, he just resorted to lying.

Sanders came under fire in the debate because he has proposed a plan to offer free insurance to all that would require a net of $ 32 trillion in new tax revenue, and yet, his proposed tax hikes, as sweeping as they are, would generate only $ 17.5 trillion, according to his campaign. That’s a gap equivalent to about four years of the entire federal budget.

In the midst of a contentious back-and-forth, Sanders eventually delivered the following whopper: “What every study out there, conservative or progressive, says: Medicare for All will save money. ”

That statement is not remotely true.

The liberal Urban Institute found that, while the United States would spend $ 52 trillion under the status quo (when all government and private spending is taken into account) under his healthcare plan, we’d spend $ 59 trillion. The issue is that, even if having a single government payer would mean consolidating expenses, Sanders has promised that his plan would offer full medical, dental, prescription drug, and vision coverage without charging any premiums, copayments, or deductibles. After weighing these offsetting effects, the study concluded, “The increase in spending for people with this new generous coverage would outweigh the savings from lower prices for healthcare providers and lower administrative costs.”

Emory University health finance expert Kenneth Thorpe, looking at an earlier version of the Sanders plan, found that “over 70% of working privately insured households would pay more under a fully funded single-payer plan than they do for health insurance today.”

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The Rand Corporation has found that health spending in the U.S. would increase 2% in the first year a Sanders-type program was in effect. However, that’s assuming that the medical system would only be able to meet 50% of the new demand for health services under a free system. If such demand were fully met, then health spending would increase nearly 10% in one year, the equivalent to about $ 380 billion.

Sanders does like to cite a study by the libertarian Mercatus Center, saying that it demonstrates that his plan would save $ 2 trillion over a decade. What he doesn’t mention is that the study assumed that medical providers would see their compensation slashed by 40% relative to what they get from private insurance. If Sanders is going to embrace this estimate, he should be asked how he expects to ensure access to 330 million seeking to take advantage of free care at the same time he’s asking doctors and hospitals to take a substantial pay cut.

There is one study, which is now a favorite of Sanders, that does part with others in claiming his plan would save $ 450 billion annually. The lead co-author is Alison Galvani, who was an unpaid adviser to Sanders’s Senate office when it was writing his Medicare for All Act. Yet, as Adrianna McIntyre, a healthcare policy Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, has noted, the study has many flaws, including the fact that it assumes the only people who would be using more healthcare services under a Sanders-like system would be those who are currently uninsured or underinsured. It does not take into account the likely increase in consumption among who has insurance currently but who, under the Sanders approach, would no longer have to pay deductibles or copayments to access care.

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Regardless of how one feels about the Lancet study, however, it remains demonstrably false that “every study out there” has found that his plan would save money.