Peter Sullivan reported that Congressional Republicans don’t want to talk about attacks on ObamaCare. But President Trump isn’t making that easy.
The Trump administration on Wednesday filed its official legal argument calling for the entirety of the Affordable Care Act to be struck down, once again thrusting the issue back in the spotlight at a time when GOP lawmakers are trying to turn the page.
Republicans would much rather focus on criticizing the “Medicare for All” proposal backed by more and more Democrats, something they see as a winning line of attack compared to reigniting an ObamaCare debate that contributed to the GOP losing its majority in the House last year.
Trump, though, is not playing along with that strategy; instead, he is keeping up his attacks on ObamaCare in court and in his speeches.
Asked if he wished the Trump administration was not arguing so forcefully against the 2010 health care law in court, Sen. John Thune(S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, separated congressional Republicans from the White House.
“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Thune said. “What we have to worry about is what our members are working on, what we’re trying to do and how we’re communicating that to the American people.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declined to say he supported the administration’s move.
“The president can message whatever he wants to message, and there’s no control I have over what he can message,” Grassley said.
With all the talk of collusion, lies, threats of impeachment our Congress is really doing nothing for real healthcare improvement. And Republicans have been beating the drum almost daily to get across their main health care message: that Medicare for All would take away people’s private health insurance and come with an enormous price tag.
Republicans this week seized on a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examining projected costs associated with Medicare for All. While the report did not put a specific price tag on the proposal, it said government spending on health care would “increase substantially.”
Previous studies have put the cost to the government around $32 trillion over 10 years. I will try to break down the numbers.
But one side effect of the GOP’s attacks on Medicare for All is that it comes close to defending the status quo, which includes ObamaCare.
This is the problem with the GOP, they have no real plan for healthcare and although that they have had many months for the solution-they have none.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) asked at a hearing this week on Medicare for All why lawmakers don’t just focus on bipartisan fixes to ObamaCare instead of pursuing the sweeping new system that’s championed by progressives like 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“We have a chance, I think, to make some fixes that we probably all agree on,” Cole said.
Over the past few months, though, GOP lawmakers had been mostly silent on ObamaCare, a law they aggressively attacked for eight years.
The Affordable Care Act’s popularity has been rising in recent years, with a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April finding that 50 percent of adults have a favorable view of the law, compared to 38 percent with an unfavorable one.
Most Democrats last year campaigned on maintaining the law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
“The last thing Senate Republicans want to be doing is participating in an exercise that would potentially remove coverage from people with pre-existing conditions that they already have,” said a Senate GOP strategist. “Candidates in tough races will be emphasizing how to improve on what currently exists.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month said the GOP health care message is “preserving what works and fixing what doesn’t,” a very different slogan than the party’s long-time mantra of “repeal and replace.”
Trump, though, is on the attack against ObamaCare. In a speech last week, he touted the 2017 repeal of the law’s mandate to have coverage before adding, “Now we’re going for the rest.”
His administration is also supporting the lawsuit brought by a coalition of GOP-led states calling for overturning the law. That case, which legal experts in both parties dismiss as unlikely to succeed, is now making its way through the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Vulnerable Republican lawmakers are not eager to talk about the administration’s efforts on that front.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection next year, said Thursday that he had not seen the administration’s legal filing, declining to comment on it and on his views on the lawsuit. His office did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a moderate who is facing a potentially competitive race next year, distanced himself from the lawsuit.
“I don’t agree with anything being taken out without a replacement ready,” he said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) noted the failure of the GOP’s repeal attempt in 2017.
“Obviously the repeal-and-replace discussion wasn’t successful, so let’s put that behind us and let’s make this one work,” she said.
Thune, though, suggested that if Republicans were in control of both chambers again, they would likely attempt another repeal-and-replace measure.
“Obviously, if and when we have the votes, we’d like to take a different direction, one that would create more competition and more choices and lower costs,” Thune said.
So, the Real Question is Would ‘Medicare for All’ Save
Josh Katz, Kevin Quealy, and Margot Sanger-Katz last month reviewed U.S. Health Care Expenditures in 2019
Total cost under current law out of pocket$1.00Private health insurance$1.00Other health spending$514 billion other health insurance$149 billionMedicaid$1.00Medicare for All$3.87 trillion
How much would a “Medicare for all” plan, like the kind being introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, change health spending in the United States?
Some advocates have said costs would actually be lower because of gains in efficiency and scale, while critics have predicted huge increases.
We asked a handful of economists and think tanks with a range of perspectives to estimate total American health care expenditures in 2019 under such a plan. The chart at the top of this page shows the estimates, both in composition and in total cost.
In all of these estimates, patients and private insurers would spend far less, and the federal government would pay far more. But the overall changes are also important, and they’re larger than they may look. Even the difference between the most expensive estimate and the second-most expensive estimate was larger than the budget of most federal agencies.
The big differences in the estimates of experts reflect the challenge of forecasting a change of this magnitude; it would be the largest domestic policy change in a generation.
The proposals themselves are vague on crucial points. More broadly, any Medicare for all system would be influenced by the decisions and actions of parties concerned — patients, health care providers, and political actors — in complex, hard-to-predict ways. But seeing the range of responses, and the things that all the experts agree on can give us some ideas about what Medicare for all could mean for the country’s budget and economy.
These estimates come from:
Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, whose estimates were frequently cited by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2016.
Charles Blahous, a senior research strategist at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and a former trustee of Medicare and Social Security.
Analysts at the RAND Corporation, a global policy research group that has estimated the effects of several single-payer health care proposals.
Kenneth E. Thorpe, the chairman of the health policy department at Emory University, who helped Vermont estimate the costs of a single-payer proposal there in 2006.
Analysts at the Urban Institute, a Washington policy research group that frequently estimates the effects of health policy changes.
Right now, individuals and employers pay insurance premiums; people pay cash co-payments for drugs, and state governments pay a share of Medicaid costs. In a Sanders-style system or one recently introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, nearly all of that would be replaced by federal spending. That’s why some experts describe such a system as single-payer. (Other Democrats who are supporting coverage expansion through Medicare have offered more modest proposals that would preserve some out-of-pocket spending and a role for private insurance.)
The economists made their calculations using different assumptions and methods, and you can read more about those methods at the bottom of this article.
These two estimates, for example, from the Mercatus Center and the Urban Institute, differ by about $730 billion per year, roughly 3 percent of G.D.P. The two groups don’t often agree on public policy — Mercatus tends to be more right-leaning and Urban more left-leaning.
The biggest difference between the Mercatus estimate and the Urban one is related to how much the new system would pay doctors, hospitals and other medical providers for health services. Mr. Friedman’s estimate, the least expensive of the group, assumed that the government could achieve the largest cost savings on both prescription drugs and administrative spending.
How much would doctors and hospitals and other providers be paid?
Pay too little, and you risk hospital closings and unhappy health care providers. Pay too much, and the system will become far more expensive. Small differences add up.
The estimated increase in Medicare payment rates paid to medical providers
In our current system, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are paid by a number of insurers, and those insurers all pay them slightly different prices. In general, private insurance pays medical providers more than Medicare does. Under a Medicare for all system, Medicare would pick up all the bills. Paying the same prices that Medicare pays now would mean an effective pay cut for medical providers who currently see a lot of patients with private insurance.
For a Medicare for all system to save money, it needs to reduce the health care industry’s income somewhat. But if rates are too low, hospitals already facing financial difficulties could be put out of business.
Neither Mr. Sanders’s legislation nor the Jayapal House bill specifies what the Medicare for all system would pay, but they say that Medicare would establish budgets and payment rates. So our estimators offered their best guess of what they thought such a plan might do.
Mr. Thorpe said he picked a number higher than current Medicare prices for hospitals because he thought anything lower would be unsustainable. Mr. Blahous said he constructed his starting estimate at precisely Medicare rates, though he thought the real number would most likely be higher. He also reran his calculations with a more generous assumption: At 111 percent of Medicare, around the average amount all health insurers pay medical providers now, the total shot up by hundreds of billions of dollars, about an additional 1.5 percent of G.D.P.
How much lower would prescription costs be?
By negotiating directly on behalf of all Americans, instead of having individual insurance companies and plans bargain separately, the government should be able to pay lower drug prices.
The estimated reduction in drug spending
Patients in the United States pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. That’s partly a result of a fractured system in which different payers negotiate separately for drug benefits. But it also reflects national preferences: An effective negotiator needs to be able to say no, and American patients tend to want access to the widest array of cutting-edge drugs, even if it means paying more.
A Medicare for all system would have more leverage with the drug industry because it could bargain for the whole country’s drug supply at once. But politics would still be a constraint. A system willing to pay for fewer drugs could probably get bigger discounts than one that wanted to preserve the current set of choices. That would mean, though, that some patients would be denied the medications they want.
All of our economists thought a Medicare for all system could negotiate lower prices than the current ones. But they differed in their assessments of how cutthroat a negotiator Medicare would be. Mr. Friedman thought Medicare for all could reduce drug spending by nearly a third. The Urban team said the savings would be at least 20 percent. The other researchers imagined more modest reductions.
How much more would people use the health care system?
By expanding coverage to the uninsured, adding new benefits and wiping out cost sharing, Medicare for all would encourage more Americans to seek health care services.
The estimated increase in the use of health care
Medicare for all would give insurance to around 28 million Americans who don’t have it now. And evidence shows that people use more health services when they’re insured. That change alone would increase the bill for the program.
Other changes to Medicare for all would also tend to increase health care spending. Some proposals would eliminate nearly all co-payments and deductibles. Evidence shows that people tend to go to the doctor more when there’s no such cost sharing. The proposed plans would also add medical benefits not typically covered by health insurance, such as dental care, hearing aids, and optometry services, which would increase their use.
The economists differ somewhat in how much they think people would increase their use of medical services. (Because of the way the Urban Institute team’s estimate was calculated, it couldn’t easily provide a number for this question.
What would Medicare for all cost to run?
Right now, the health care system is complicated, with lots of different payers and ways to negotiate prices and bill for services. A single payment system could save some money by simplifying all that.
Estimated administrative costs as a share of all spending
The complexity of the American system means that administrative costs can often be high. Insurance companies spend on negotiations, claims review, marketing and sometimes shareholder returns. One key possible advantage of a Medicare for all system would be to strip away some of those overhead costs.
But estimating possible savings in management and administration is not easy. Medicare currently has a much lower administrative cost share than other forms of insurance, but it also covers sicker people, distorting such comparisons. Certain administrative functions, like fraud detection, can have a substantial return on investment.
The economists all said administrative costs would be lower under Medicare for all, but they differed on how much. Those differences amount to percentage points on top of the differing estimates of medical spending. On this question, there was rough agreement among our estimators that administrative costs would be no higher than 6 percent of medical costs, a number similar to the administrative costs that large employers spend on their health plans. Mr. Blahous said a 6 percent estimate would probably apply to populations currently covered under private insurance but did not calculate an overall rate.
But what will it cost me?
All of these estimates looked at the potential health care bill under a Sanders-style Medicare for all plan. In some estimates, the country would not pay more for health care, but there would still be a drastic shift in who is doing the paying. Individuals and their employers now pay nearly half of the total cost of medical care, but that percentage would fall close to zero, and the percentage paid by the federal government would rise to compensate. Even under Mr. Blahous’s lower estimate, which assumes a reduction in overall health care spending, federal spending on health care would still increase by 10 percent of G.D.P., or more than triple what the government spends on the military.
How that transfer takes place is one of the least well-explained parts of the reform proposals. Taxation is the most obvious way to collect that extra revenue, but so far none of the current Medicare for all proposals have included a detailed tax plan. Even if total medical spending stayed flat overall, some taxpayers could come out ahead and pay less; others could find themselves paying more.
Raising revenue would require broad tax increases that are likely to be partly borne by the middle class, potentially impeding passage. Advocates, including Mr. Sanders, tend to favor funding the program with payroll taxes.
For some people, any increase in federal taxes might be more than offset by reductions in their spending on premiums, co-payments, deductibles, and state taxes. There is evidence to suggest that premium savings by employers would also be returned to workers in the form of higher salaries. But, depending on the details, other groups could end up paying more in tax increases than they save in those reductions.
After Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign released a tax proposal in 2016, the Urban Institute tried to calculate the effects on different groups. But it found that the proposed taxes would pay for only about half of the increased federal bill. That means that a real financing proposal would probably need to raise a lot more in taxes. How those are spread across the population would change who would be better or worse off under Medicare for all.
About the estimates
Our economists differed somewhat in their estimation methods. They also examined a couple of different Medicare for all proposals, though all the plans had the same major features.
Gerald Friedman calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. A 2018 paper with his analysis of several different variations on Medicare for all is available.
Kenneth E. Thorpe calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. A 2016 paper with more of his findings on Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign proposal is available.
The Urban Institute built its estimates using a microsimulation model, which estimates how individuals with different incomes and health care needs would respond to changes in health insurance. The model does not consider the effects of policy changes on military and veterans’ health care or the Indian Health Service, so its totals assumed those programs would not change. It also measures limits on the availability of doctors and hospitals using evidence from the Medicaid program. The team at Urban that prepared the calculations includes John Holahan, Lisa Clemans-Cope, Matthew Buettgens, Melissa Favreault, Linda J. Blumberg and Siyabonga Ndwandwe. Its detailed report on Mr. Sanders’s presidential campaign proposal from 2016 is available.
Charles Blahous calculated the cost of Medicare for all by making adjustments to current health care spending using assumptions he derived from the research literature. His measurements didn’t capture the behavior of individual Americans, but estimated broader changes as groups of people gained access to different insurance, and as medical providers earned a different mix of payments. His calculations were made based on Mr. Sanders’s 2017 Medicare for All Act, which indicated that states would continue to pay a share of long-term care costs. A 2018 paper with more of his findings is available and includes both sets of estimates for Medicare provider payments.
The RAND Corporation built its estimates by making adjustments to previous single-payer analyses. The original estimates used a microsimulation model, which estimates how individuals with different incomes and health care needs would respond to changes in health insurance. The RAND model, which it uses to estimate the effects of various health policy changes, is called RAND COMPARE. Calculations were made assuming a Medicare for all plan that offers coverage with no cost-sharing and long-term care benefits. The RAND team that prepared the estimate includes Christine Eibner and Jodi Liu. A copy of the report is available; Ms. Liu’s 2016 study of how different.
Maybe we should spend some time reviewing the history of Medicare to get a better idea of the system. I’ll do that over the next few weeks.