Sanders Calls for Single-Payer

Published July 23, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–VT), one of a handful of Democratic presidential nominees, is calling for the United States to adopt a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health care system similar to those in Canada and the United Kingdom.

A single-payer model would empower the government to be the primary health insurance provider and allow government agencies to decide who gets life-saving treatments and who does not.

During a June interview on ABC’s This Week, Sanders said, “We need to join the rest of the industrialized world” by adopting a Medicaid-for-all health care system.

Many public policy experts say it would be a grave mistake for the United States to adopt a single-payer system.

Rationing or Trillions in New Debt

Sanders is a true zealot for single-payer, says Roger Stark, a health care policy analyst at the Washington Policy Center and a retired physician

“Of note is the fact that Gov. Shumlin of Vermont campaigned for office [on the issue] and has been a strong proponent of a single-payer system for years,” Stark said.

“When it came right down to implementing it for Vermont, however, he realized the tremendous cost and backed away from the plan,” Stark said. “Sanders’ Medicare-for-everyone should be a nonstarter unless he wants the Independent Payment Advisory Board to severely ration health care or he intends to add trillions to the national debt.”

Obama’s ‘Ultimate Goal’ Too

Greg Scandlen, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says he’s not at all surprised single-payer is in the news again.

“After all, President Obama said some time ago that single-payer is his ultimate goal,” Scandlen said. “Many people suspect he created a very flawed health care ‘reform’ bill in order to crash what was a reasonably well-functioning system and leave single-payer as the only road forward. Whether or not that was his intention, it is certainly the result.”

There is in fact only one true single-payer system among all the industrialized countries, and that is in Canada, Scandlen says. The rest all have a mix of public and private programs, as the United States does. But the idea of a government program for everybody residing in the country is a longstanding fixation on the political left, he says.

“They often call it ‘Medicare for All,’ but in fact Medicare is a very poor insurance program that has many gaps of coverage and no limit whatsoever on out-of-pocket spending,” said Scandlen. “[It’s such a poor system that it effectively] forces people … to buy another plan[, called MediGap,] to supplement it. Medicare is completely unsustainable and is [quickly] running out of money and has made promises to the elderly that can never be kept. Single-payer would be the fastest way imaginable to bankrupt the country and leave us like Greece.”

‘Convoluted, Government-Imposed System’

A true free market health care system would be best at ensuring high quality at the lowest possible cost, which is far from what we now have, says Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

“We have a convoluted, government-imposed system under Obamacare that will be expensive and inefficient and may be unworkable,” says Matthews. “If we can’t repeal Obamacare, the country may be forced into a debate over whether a single-payer system … is more efficient than Obamacare, and we may conclude it is.”

Sean Parnell ([email protected]) is a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute and president of Impact Policy Management, LLC.

Internet Info

John C. Goodman, “The Fallacy of Replacing ObamaCare with Medicare-for-All,” The Heartland Institute, October 13, 2010: