Article by Rylan Maksoud
Even though he describes himself as a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders does not want to shun capitalism nor make the United States look like China. His plan for America is based on the economic system in many prosperous, capitalist, social democracies around the world–Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway–and would work here. As a case study, I will discuss the single-payer health care system proposal.
An integral part of Sanders’ plan is to bring a single-payer health care system–where the government acts as the insurer–to the United States. Critics of this system believe it would be too costly. On September 14, 2015, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece decrying Bernie Sanders’ plan for that reason. It cited Gerald Friedman, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in claiming that a single-payer health care system would require $15 trillion in additional government spending over 10 years. What The Wall Street Journal failed to include from Mr. Friedman’s research is that the country, as a whole, would save nearly $5 trillion over 10 years by switching to a single-payer system. In opposition to The Wall Street Journal article citing his own work, Friedman published “An Open Letter to the Wall Street Journal on Its Bernie Sanders Hit Piece,” highlighting this omission. Government spending would increase of course, and taxes would have to be raised, but they would be raised to an amount lower than what Americans currently spend on health insurance, since overall costs would be less. Not only would we save money due to “reduced administrative waste, lower pharmaceutical and device prices, and by lowering the rate of medical inflation,” but we would also ensure that nobody wouldn’t be able to see a doctor because they can’t afford it, and we would achieve universal health care coverage.
The American people would be able to spend their money stimulating their local economies, instead of having some insurance company take it every month. In addition, companies operating in the United States would have lower costs because they wouldn’t have to pay for health insurance for their employees. Another benefit would be that individuals would no longer be forced to stay with their employer for health benefits. In California in 2002, 179,000 people wished to switch employers, but couldn’t due to their health care benefits. According to Politifact, out of the world’s 25 wealthiest nations, the United States is the only advanced country without universal coverage and its benefits.
To find the argument against a single-payer health care system, I turned to Fox News. In their article explaining single-payer healthcare, they quote Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, in opposing single-payer health care:
“The government hasn’t done a very good job with the health care system it already runs,” he said. “Medicare is nearly $50 trillion in debt, there [are] still all sorts of problems with the VA [Veterans Affairs] system, Medicaid provides coverage that is barely better than being uninsured. So the government’s track record is not very successful.”
These arguments are easily rebutted. As the Cato Institute’s linked article explains, Medicare is not actually $50 trillion in debt. It has future liabilities that are not yet funded. A lack of current funding for a future liability does not speak to the government’s current operation of the system. The problems referred to with the VA system do not apply to a single-payer health care system because the government would not be operating the hospitals. They would only expand their health insurance operation from the elderly and the poor to the entire nation. Next, Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates for doctors are the cause for its criticized coverage. It is disingenuous for conservatives to continually attempt to cut Medicaid funding, then claim that its low reimbursement rates are evidence of the government doing a poor job.
Despite his claims that he is a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders has never suggested anything close to socialism–defined as the collective ownership of the means of production. Instead, he wants to implement the Nordic model in the United States. The Nordic model is what is in place in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Norway, all of which regularly top lists of the world’s happiest countries. The Nordic model is a system in which free-market capitalism can operate but is restricted so that nobody is left behind. A vote for Bernie Sanders was a vote for a step toward this society, but that is not the path we chose in 2016.