Wall Street Journal blasts high cost of single-payer, cites paper that proves them wrong

Bernie Sanders has been talking a big game on the economy, advocating for a series of expansions of social programs that he claims will create jobs and and reduce economic inequality. But the Wall Street Journal isn’t buying it. Not for that price, at least.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.56.52 PMSee, they’ve tallied up the cost of all of these proposals and, via a quick bit of fuzzy math, come up with a price tag of $18 TRILLION dollars, $15 trillion of which comes from “Medicare for all” single-payer health insurance (you know, the program that Donald Trump says works great in Canada). And they don’t seem all that surprised by their tally, given that Sanders is, you know, an S-word.

Except, of course, their figures are a deliberate stretch. As Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post earlier today, “while Sanders does want to spend significant amounts of money, almost all of it is on things we’re already paying for; he just wants to change how we pay for them.”

And since we already spend an absurdly large amount of money on health insurance, there’s every reason to believe that single-payer would save us money, not cost us:

The Wall Street Journal, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

The Wall Street Journal, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

At the moment, total health care spending in the United States runs over $3 trillion a year; according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over the next decade (from 2015-2024), America will spend a total of $42 trillion on health care. This is money that you and I and everyone else spends…

…So let’s say that Bernie Sanders became president and passed a single-payer health care system of some sort. And let’s say that it did indeed cost $15 trillion over 10 years. Would that be $15 trillion in new money we’d be spending? No, it would be money that we’re already spending on health care, but now it would go through government. If I told you I could cut your health insurance premiums by $1,000 and increase your taxes by $1,000, you wouldn’t have lost $1,000. You’d be in the same place you are now…

…There’s something else to keep in mind: every single-payer system in the world, and there are many of them of varying flavors, is cheaper than the American health care system. Every single one. So whatever you might say about Sanders’ advocacy for a single-payer system, you can’t say it represents some kind of profligate, free-spending idea that would cost us all terrible amounts of money.

To that point, as David Dayen wrote in the Intercept, our current system, which Sanders would replace with single-payer, is already slated to cost the government $30 trillion over the next ten years. As in, twice as much as single-payer would cost, not even taking into account what we pay privately. And as for the rest of the programs that Sanders has endorsed, the cost isn’t nearly as scary as the Wall Street Journal would have you believe:

Where does the rest of the $18 trillion come from? $1.2 trillion is through expansion of Social Security. Sanders already has identified a dedicated funding stream for that, by eliminating the payroll tax cap above $250,000 in annual earnings.

The other spending programs, including rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, paid family and medical leave, bolstering private pension funds and a youth jobs program, add up to $1.8 trillion.

$1.8 trillion that lacks a specified funding stream, minus $15 trillion dollars in savings by switching to single-payer health care, equals multi-trillion dollar savings for the government.

You’d think the Journal’s analysts would have paused to reflect on this possibility, given that their source for their article about the alarmingly high cost of single-payer health care is a paper titled: “How we can afford a national single-payer health plan.”

I guess if you torture the data enough, the numbers will confess. Either way, I won’t hold my breath for the Wall Street Journal to sound the alarm bells over George Bush’s tax plan, which actually blows an unaccounted-for $3.4 trillion hole in the budget, with over half of that going directly to the top one percent. That would mean admitting that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves.

Oh wait…


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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