2020 Dems Grapple with How to Pay for ‘Medicare for All’ and the Biden and Sanders Argument, and Yes, More on Medicare

rights328I recently spoke with a friend in the political world of Washington and his comment was that “there is a war here in D.C.” After listening to whatever news reports that you and yes I, listen to I can certainly believe it!! I’m wondering who is really in charge!!

Reporter Elena Schor noticed that the Democratic presidential candidates trying to appeal to progressive voters with a call for “Medicare for All” are wrestling with the thorny question of how to pay for such a dramatic overhaul of the U.S. health care system.

Bernie Sanders, the chief proponent of Medicare for All, says such a remodel could cost up to $40 trillion over a decade. He’s been the most direct in talking about how he’d cover that eye-popping amount, including considering a tax hike on the middle class in exchange for healthcare without co-payments or deductibles — which, he contends, would ultimately cost Americans less than the current healthcare system.

His rivals who also support Medicare for All, however, have offered relatively few firm details so far about how they’d pay for a new government-run, a single-payer system beyond raising taxes on top earners. As the health care debate dominates the early days of the Democratic primary, some experts say candidates won’t be able to duck the question for long.

“It’s not just the rich” who would be hit with new cost burdens to help make single-payer health insurance a reality, said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank. Democratic candidates campaigning on Medicare for All should offer more specificity about how they would finance it, Holahan added.

Sanders himself has not thrown his weight behind a single strategy to pay for his plan, floating a list of options that include a 7.5% payroll tax on employers and higher taxes on the wealthy. But his list amounts to a more public explanation of how he would pay for Medicare for All than what other Democratic presidential candidates who also back his single-payer legislation have offered.

Kamala Harris, who has repeatedly tried to clarify her position on Medicare for All, vowed this week she wouldn’t raise middle-class taxes to pay for a shift to single-payer coverage. The California senator told CNN that “part of it is going to have to be about Wall Street paying more.”

Her contention prompted criticism that she wasn’t being realistic about what it would take to pay for Medicare for All. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a rival Democratic presidential candidate, said Harris’ claim that Medicare for All would not involve higher taxes on the middle class was “impossible,” though he stopped short of calling her dishonest and said only that candidates “need to be clear” about their policies.

A Harris aide later said she had suggested a tax on Wall Street transactions as only one potential way to finance Medicare for All, and that other options were available. The aide insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly about the issue.

Another Medicare for All supporter, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, would ask individuals to pay between 4% and 5% of their income toward the new system and ask their employers to match that level of spending. Gillibrand’s proposal, shared by an aide who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s thinking, could supplement the revenue generated by that change with options that hit wealthy individuals and businesses, including a new Wall Street tax.

Gillibrand is a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislation adding a small tax to financial transactions, while Harris is not.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has signed onto Medicare for All legislation but said on the campaign trail that he would pursue incremental steps as well, could seek to raise revenue for the proposal by raising some individual tax rates, changing capital gains taxes or expanding the estate tax, according to an aide who spoke candidly about the issue on condition of anonymity.

The campaign of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who used last month’s debate to affirm her support for Sanders’ single-payer health care plan, did not respond to a request for more details on potential financing options for Medicare for All.

Meanwhile, Sanders argued during a high-profile Medicare for All speech this week that high private health insurance premiums, deductibles, and copayments, all of which would be eliminated by his proposal, amount to “nothing less than taxes on the middle class.”

Medicare for All opponents are also under pressure to explain how they’d pay for changes to the health insurance market. Former Vice President Joe Biden is advocating for a so-called “public option” that would allow people to decide between a government-financed plan or a private one. He would pay for his $750 billion proposals by repealing tax cuts for the wealthy that President Donald Trump and the GOP cut in 2017, and by raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy.

Inside Biden and Sanders’ Battle Over Health Care—and the Party’s Future

Sahil Kapur noted that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are engaged in open warfare over health care that could harden party divisions and play into the hands of President Donald Trump.

In the latest iteration of the battle, Biden’s communications director posted an article on Saturday, entitled “Let’s Get Real About Health Care,” that delved into the potential costs of the proposals favored by the Democratic party’s left flank.

The tension points to a broader power struggle in Washington and on the campaign trail that pits long-dominant moderates like Biden against an insurgent wing led by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But a prolonged battle risks entrenching bitterness between the factions that threatens party unity heading into the general election.

Many prominent Democrats fear that backing an end to private health insurance means defeat in the presidential race and the competitive districts that won the party a House majority in 2018. They prefer more modest legislation to expand government-run insurance options.

Biden favors that approach, calling for largely preserving the popular Obamacare while adding a “public option” that would compete with private insurers. Sanders, a Vermont senator and the chief architect of a Medicare for All plan that would cover everybody under a single government plan, wants to replace the 2010 law.

Aimee Allison, who runs She the People, an activist group that seeks to elevate women of color and recently hosted a Democratic presidential forum, said young voters and minorities are eager for change.

“The Democratic Party leadership is more concerned about moderate to conservative Democratic voters, who are a shrinking and less reliable part of the party base than they are about people of color, women of color, younger voters who are inspired by these kinds of ideas,” Allison said.

“That decision led to the loss in 2016,” she said. “There were plenty of black voters who could be inspired to vote and weren’t — and that’s why we lost.”

Climate Change

The split extends far beyond health care. Democrats also differ on how aggressively to tackle climate change and whether to support mass cancellation of student debt.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said the differences among Democrats reflect meaningful policy disagreements rather than just political calculations.

“Bernie Sanders should be applauded for pushing the debate” about how bold to be, Pfeiffer said in an email. “But I do think some of the opposition among the candidates to Sanders’ version is about policy as much as politics.”

The health care debate grew heated earlier this week when Biden, who as vice president helped steer the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, through Congress, told voters that the “Medicare For All Act” authored by Sanders “means getting rid of Obamacare — and I’m not for that.” He said the bill would end private insurance and ensure that “Medicare goes away as you know it.”

Fear-Mongering’

Sanders responded by accusing Biden of “fear-mongering” and parroting the “lies” of Trump and the insurance industry. His campaign website posted a “who said it” quiz on health care mocking Biden as being aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

Biden argues that Medicare for All would cancel plans for the 150 million people on private insurance and that he’d give them the option to keep their plan. Sanders says adding a public option to Obamacare would be less effective at covering the 27 million uninsured Americans or cutting costs. While a tax increase would be required to pay for single-payer, eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket costs would offset it, he says.

Biden pressed his argument Thursday, insisting he wasn’t criticizing Sanders but rather conveying what his plan would do.

“Bernie’s completely honest about saying he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class and just straightforward about it,” the former vice president told reporters in Los Angeles.

The Biden campaign went after Sanders’ plan again on Saturday in a Medium.com post, saying that defending Obamacare is a way for Democrats to win in 2020.

“We all understand the appeal of Medicare for All, but before we go down that road we should take a clear-eyed and honest look at what the plan actually says and what it will cost,” wrote Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield. She suggested Biden’s view would prevail “once voters look beyond Twitter and catch-phrases.”

A similar power struggle is unfolding in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats have clashed with the “Squad” of newly elected progressive women – Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

The new lawmakers have used their large social media followings to elevate far-reaching ideas while challenging party leaders to be more tactically aggressive with Trump on issues like immigration and impeachment.

“The Squad — they’re a proxy for the millions of us who want to see a bolder, more progressive set of policies and changes,” Allison said, arguing that limiting the Democratic Party’s vision based on what appears politically possible would prevent new voters from getting engaged and turning out.

Conditional Support

Polling on Medicare for All illustrates the party’s dilemma. Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans favor the idea. But support plummets when people are told the program would eliminate private insurance and rises again when they are told that switching to a government-run plan doesn’t necessarily mean losing their doctors and providers.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders back Biden’s approach. 2020 rivals Warren, and Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand cosponsor sanders’ single-payer plan. Harris says she prefers single-payer but has also cosponsored legislation for a public option as a route to extending coverage.

Ocasio-Cortez said Americans she talks to “like their health care, they like their doctor,” but that they aren’t “heartbroken” about the prospect of having to transition off an Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

Trump and his allies have sought to make the Squad the face of the Democratic Party, believing that they alienate moderate voters. House GOP campaign chairman Tom Emmer called the four women the “red army of socialists” at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast for reporters.

The four women are among the 114 cosponsors of the Medicare For All Act in the House, but the legislation has stalled out and is unlikely to be brought to a vote, which suggests that the moderate wing is winning the battle in Washington.

Andy Slavitt, a former acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama, said Democrats unanimously agree on the goal of universal coverage but differ on how best to get there.

“Primaries are about calling out differences in approach. There should be sufficient oxygen to say how would Joe Biden or Michael Bennet do it versus how would Bernie Sanders do it,” he said in an interview.

Slavitt warned that while a debate was healthy, Democrats shouldn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal.

“It’s important that we don’t get so overwhelmed with the distinctions around ‘how’ that we forget there is a massive gulf between what the visions are,” Slavitt said, “between Democrats and the president’s position to repeal the ACA, make coverage more expensive.”

Surprise! Here’s Proof That Medicare for All Is Doomed

Ramesh Ponnuru discovered that there’s a high-profile debate over health care playing out in the presidential race, and a lower-profile one taking place in Congress. Several Democratic presidential candidates are telling us that they are going to provide health care that is free at the point of service to all comers. In little-noticed congressional mark-ups, members of both parties are demonstrating why these promises will not be met.

The legislation under consideration is aimed at so-called surprise medical bills” – charges a patient assumes were covered by insurance but turn out not to have been. My family got one last year: The hospital where my wife delivered our son was in our insurer’s network, but an anesthesiologist outside the network-assisted. The bill had four digits.

Surprise bills seem to be something of a business model for some companies. A 2017 study showed how bills rose when EmCare Inc. took over hospitals’ emergency rooms, with the percentage of visits incurring out-of-network charges jumping “like a light switch was being flipped on.”

Policy experts from across the political spectrum have devised ways to prevent this sticker shock. Benedic Ippolito and David Hyman have a short paper for the American Enterprise Institute (where I am a fellow) that suggests providers of emergency medicine should have to contract with hospitals, reaching agreement on prices and folding them into the total bill, rather than sending separate bills to patients and their insurers. In incidents where the surprise bill is the result of an emergency involving treatment by an out-of-network hospital (or transportation by an out-of-network ambulance), their solution would be to cap payments at 50% above the level that in-network providers get paid on average. In both cases, prices would be determined by negotiation among parties that are informed and not in the middle of a medical emergency.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has introduced a bill that includes a version of that cap. But provider trade groups favor a different measure introduced by Representative Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from California, which would create a 60-day arbitration process to determine what insurers should pay out-of-network providers, and instructs arbiters to first consider the 80th percentile of list prices for a service in a given market. It is a generous approach that analysts with the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy conclude “would likely result in large revenue increases for emergency and ancillary services, paid for by commercially-insured patients and taxpayers.” It would, therefore, mean higher premiums and federal deficits, while Alexander’s alternative has been estimated to reduce both. Ruiz has 52 co-sponsors who range from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans.

Turn from this dispute, for a moment, to the Medicare for All proposal (which has some of the same co-sponsors as the Ruiz bill). It envisions sharp cuts in payments to providers – as high as 40%. Those cuts enable advocates to say they will cover the uninsured and provide added coverage to the insured while reducing national health spending.

Is this at all likely? The Alexander bill would try to rein in billing by one subset of providers in cases where the bills are especially unpopular. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee is watering down its surprise-billing legislation, accepting a provider-backed Ruiz amendment to add arbitration. It’s not as generous as Ruiz’s own bill, but its effect would be to keep payments at today’s rates.

The House is following a long line of precedents. For years, bipartisan majorities in Congress voted down planned cuts in provider-payment rates under Medicare; ultimately, they got rid of the planned cuts altogether. Now even modest measures like Alexander’s face determined and effective resistance.

There is, in short, very little appetite for cutting payments to providers. If medical-provider lobbies can force Congress to back off from addressing surprise bills – which are, in the grand scheme of our health-care system, a small kink – what are the odds lawmakers will force a much larger group of providers, including the powerful hospitals lobby, to accept the much larger reductions that Medicare for All would have to entail? Maybe the Democratic presidential hopefuls should be asked that question at the next debate so that we can judge whether Medicare for All is a fantasy or a fraud.

Those of us who are covered by Medicare, we realize the limitations of coverage as well as the discounted reimbursements paid to physicians, hospitals, nursing facilities, etc. Do we think that Medicare for All is going to make it any better for “All”?

Back to Medicare History

By 1972 the costs associated with Medicare had spiraled out of control to such a rate that even the administration and Congress were expressing concern as I pointed before. Then as a consequence, a number of studies were undertaken to examine what were the causes. The conclusions were that this rise was due to hospital service charges that rose much faster than the Consumer Price Index and especially the medical care component of the index as well as physicians’ charges over the first five years of Medicare ending in 1971. The charges rose 39 percent as compared with a 15 percent rise in the five years before the advent of Medicare. If you adjust for the increase in CPI, the Medicare physicians’ charges rose by 11 percent during that first five years of Medicare.

Also as important is that the proportion of total health care expenditures of the elderly that originated in public sources rose far more sharply than had been expected prior to Medicare’s passage. In fact in the fiscal year 1966, the government programs provided 31 percent of the total expended on health care for the elderly and just one year later this proportion had risen to 59 percent. Also, consider that Medicare alone accounted for thirty-five cents of every dollar spent on health services by or for those over the age of 65. There were even more dramatic increases occurred in the Medicaid program during its first few years.

The wording of Title XIX provided that the federal government had an open-ended obligation to help underwrite the costs of medical care for a wide range of services to a large number of possible recipients, depending on state legislation. Therefore, there was no accurate way of predicting the ultimate costs of the program and I will leave this discussion here. Why? Because age we have an older and older population we will have a bigger group in which Medicare will cover. Now if we enlarge the demographic to include “All” Americans the main question is how will we pay for that program?

 

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