During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Hillary Clinton proclaimed that single-payer healthcare will “never, ever” happen, citing its impracticality. Despite Clinton’s victory over progressive standard-bearer Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the primary, Democrats have made a stunning lurch to the left on health care and a whole other host of issues since the 2016 election. Only three years after Clinton soundly rejected single-payer health care, support for a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care plan has swept into the Democratic mainstream. A large part of the surge in support for single-payer health care is because of support from young people, especially students.
Contrary to talking points from some conservatives, youth support for single-payer health care isn’t the result of our generation’s laziness and desire for “free stuff.” Instead, it’s because our current health care system is so exorbitantly expensive that young people simply cannot afford healthcare. In fact, an NPR study found that more than 40 percent of those under 35 have had trouble paying for health care. As a result, young people are forced to choose between taking care of their health, paying back student loans and covering basic necessities. In the United States, that’s unacceptable.
The American Dream is the idea that if you get an education and work hard, you’ll be able to live comfortably and pass on a better life to the next generation. Our leaders in Washington, of both parties, have fallen short by allowing the American Dream to fade from reality. In bringing Washington’s failure to secure quality, affordable health care for the American people to the forefront, youth activists are doing a service to our nation. Despite their noble intentions, however, single-payer health care isn’t the answer. Beyond its enticing title, there’s no coherent plan behind Medicare-for-all other than the wholesale government takeover of the American health care system. Any hasty embrace of a European-style government takeover of our health care system would have catastrophic effects on Americans' physical well-being and the nation's economy.
First and foremost, a move to single-payer health care would force millions of Americans to abandon their private health care plans in favor of government-rationed care. Earlier this week, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a Democratic presidential candidate, kicked off her campaign saying, “We need to have Medicare-for-all” and that she feels “very strongly” about the issue. When asked what would happen to the private health insurance plans nearly 136.5 million adult Americans under 65 rely on, Harris said, “Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.”
At the very least, one has to appreciate Harris’s honesty about her dreadful ideas on health care. Instead of emulating President Obama by falsely promising the American people, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” Harris is admitting from the outset that her plan would take away health care from those Americans on private insurance. Instead of providing Americans with a choice regarding their own well-being, Harris and other supporters of single-payer health care would replace the patient-insurance company relationship with big government.
One doesn’t have to look further than the Veterans Affairs Administration to see the bleak results of single-payer government-rationed care. When given the task of providing veterans with quality health care, the government allowed the VA’s “waiting lists” for care. In 2015 alone, more than 200 veterans died while waiting for care at the VA facility in Phoenix. One can only shudder thinking of all the needless suffering our veterans went through while waiting for care. The government’s failure to care for our nation's heroes is a national disgrace. Given the grim results at the VA, it would be a profound mistake to expand the VA’s single-payer model of government-rationed care to our entire healthcare system with Medicare-for-all.
Beyond the grave consequences Medicare-for-all would have on our national health, it would also prove debilitating to our economy. According to the Mercatus Center, Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All Act would add $32.6 trillion to the federal budget in the first 10 years of its implementation. In order to even attempt to pay for this, Emory University professor Kenneth Thorpe, a former Clinton administration official, estimates the government would have to implement historically high taxes. Thorpe estimates that the total tax burden resulting from Medicare-for-all would equal 20 percent of the national payroll and cause 70 percent of working households to pay more in taxes.
These astronomical tax increases resulting from Medicare-for-all would put the American Dream even further out of reach for the vast majority of working Americans. Even Sanders’s home state of Vermont rejected Medicare-for-all after initial enthusiasm when the crushing fiscal realities set in. The rest of the country ought to join Sanders’s home state in rejecting such damaging policies.
However, we cannot allow Washington to continue abdicating its responsibility to build a health care system that works for all Americans. For an issue as momentous as health care, Washington must work together for an American solution — not a Republican or Democratic one. Going forward, we need to improve our health care system so that it provides quality care at low costs while covering those with pre-existing conditions. Addressing the opioid crisis is also a must.
This task is undoubtedly lofty for a government that is unable to come together even to fund basic services. However, it’s possible if Washington starts with common sense issues that most Americans agree on, regardless of party. For example, removing regulations that prevent Americans from purchasing insurance across state lines and small businesses from pooling together to buy insurance would go a long way in boosting competition, which would likely lower prices and improve quality. In implementing these bipartisan reforms, Washington would show its ability to bring back some much-needed bipartisan common sense to politics. The future of the American Dream for generations to come depends on Washington’s ability to reject extreme proposals like Medicare-for-all in favor of common-sense reforms.
Dylan Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.