Today we continue an explanation of the proposed legislation of socialist Senator Bernie Sanders entitled Medicare For All. Healthcare economist John C. Goodman gives us ten fundamentals you need to understand about Medicare and what it means if it were the only healthcare system available to everyone, as Senator Sanders promotes. InPart I we looked at the first seven and today we pick up again with number eight.
- The real cost of Medicare includes hidden costs imposed on doctors and taxpayers.
In number seven, we learned that Medicare For All would be costly. Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center has estimated the cost at $32.6 Trillion over the first ten years – and probably more thereafter. Blahous also estimates that the administrative cost of private insurance is 13%, more than twice the 6% it costs to administer Medicare.
Single-payer advocates often use this administrative cost comparison to argue that universal Medicare would reduce healthcare costs. But this estimate ignores the hidden costs Medicare shifts to the providers of care, doctors and hospitals, including the enormous amount of paperwork required in order to get paid.
The Obama administration forced doctors and hospitals to implement electronic medical record system – a costly change that appears to have failed to deliver promised increases in quality or reduction in costs or medical errors. In fact, it has made it easier for doctors to “up code” and bill the government for more money. Also to be considered are the costs of collecting more taxes to fund Medicare. Some estimates put these costs as high as 25 cents on every dollar.
A Milliman & Robertson study estimates that when all these costs are included, Medicare and Medicaid spend two-thirds more on administration than private insurance spends. Using the most conservative estimate of the social cost of collecting taxes, economist Benjamin Zycher calculates that the excess burden of a universal Medicare program would be twice as high as the administrative costs of universal private coverage.
- Not a single problem in ObamaCare would go away under Medicare For All.
All of the difficult questions posed by ObamaCare would remain. Who would pay what? Would the premiums be actuarially fair? Would there be subsidies? Would the premiums vary by age? By health status? By income level? By health living choices?
How would employers be affected? Economists tell us that employee benefits are substitutes for wages and are therefore “paid for” by the employees. Under Medicare For All, would employers get off scot free?
Would there be an exchange? There is one now for Medicare – that’s how people enroll in Medicare Advantage plans. Like the ObamaCare exchanges, the Medicare Advantage exchange has subsidies for private insurance, mandated benefits, annual open enrollment and no discrimination based on health status.
The ObamaCare exchanges, by contrast, have been a disaster. Premiums and deductibles are skyrocketing, there are higher charges for chronic patients who need specialty drugs, and plans exclude more and more of the best doctors and hospitals. Expect more of the same with Medicare For All.
- Medicare is already on a path to healthcare rationing.
Medicare is already in trouble. It is already on an unsustainable path with future promises made that far exceed expected revenues. When the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) was passed in 2010, the Medicare Trustees estimated the unfunded liability at $89 Trillion! Yet at the next trustees’ report that figure had dropped to $37 Trillion. How could that happen?
Passage of the ACA theoretically put the government’s healthcare spending on a budget. Goodman says that for the past 40 years, per capita healthcare spending has been growing at twice the rate of growth of real per capita income. At that rate it won’t take long to run out of money.
The Obama administration tried to “solve” this problem by creating an enforcement mechanism to control spending It was called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). It was to be tasked with reducing fees for doctors and hospitals to cap spending. This unelected and unaccountable board would be able to restrict what treatments your doctor could provide with the stroke of a pen! Fortunately, IPAB was abolished this year in a bipartisan budget deal.
Goodman says expect Medicare fees to providers to continue to fall behind private sector fees in the future. This means one of two things must happen:
- Providers will respond to lower fees by providing less care to seniors
- Providers will shift costs to non-seniors in the form of higher fees, higher insurance premiums and higher state and local taxes.
The first of these options means Medicare will become more like Medicaid. Doctors will restrict access by offering fewer appointment options for Medicare patients just like they currently do for Medicaid patients. Hospitals may respond by reverting to the use of open wards instead of providing private rooms. Expensive treatments will be unavailable as cost-reducing takes precedence over patient care.
Medicare For All is socialized medicine and similar healthcare systems in other parts of the world, including Canada, Great Britain and Sweden always are plagued by restricted access and declining quality of care. Expect the same in this country.