Medicare for All Isn’t Free: The Hidden Costs of Universal Healthcare

For right-wing conservatives like me, Medicare for all is a nightmare. But for the Democratic politicians who lean increasingly toward cheap leftist populism, it is an attractive idea to appease the progressive electorate. While Medicare for all promises free healthcare to everyone, if there’s one thing you learn in ECON 101, it’s that there is no free lunch; if you’re not paying for a service, someone else is. Medicare for all is no exception. If implemented, it will not be free — rather it will be financed by real taxpayer money.

Medicare for all is estimated to cost more than $32.6 trillion over 10 years. That means an average of $3.26 trillion annually. In fiscal 2016, Medicare and Medicaid combined to cost $1.24 trillion, so under a universal health care system, spending would increase to nearly triple the current amount. However, the federal budget for fiscal year 2019 is $4.41 trillion, so in order to pay for this costly program, we’d need to account for a larger budget of $6.43 trillion. But where would we get an additional $2.02 trillion annually?

The Democrats’ answer to this question seems to be the usual one: the rich will pay. The Democrats would not dare to cut spending for other social programs. They likely wouldn’t even consider cutting Social Security spending by raising the retirement age — which would be a common-sense action as the system will likely go bankrupt by 2034 due to the mass retirement of baby boomers. The programs Democrats have proposed cuts to, especially the military, would simply not yield enough money: U.S. military spending is only $700 billion. Compared to the needed $2 trillion, it’s just a grain of sand in the desert. And at what cost? Such cuts would undermine the security of both the United States and its European allies. The geopolitical situation in the world is already tense, and America cannot risk weakening the defenses of NATO in Europe and around the world.

What’s wrong with the wealthy paying substantially more than the lower and middle class for welfare? The rich are far from being the main recipients of federally subsidized welfare. Raising the taxes for the top bracket to an alarming 52 percent (this is proposed by Senator Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats and is one of the main supporters of single-payer health care in America) would force people who don’t benefit from a service to pay more for this service than those who benefit from it. That hardly sounds fair.

Worse, taxing the rich too highly deprives people of the incentive to get rich while also driving rich job-creators away from the country. These factors can combine to cause economic stagnation, or worse, a recession — hurting all Americans in the process.

However, if, instead, the U.S. does not raise taxes, the debt accumulation would increase from $1 trillion per annum to $3 trillion. That would mean that in less than 50 years all tax revenue will be spent on paying the debt’s accumulated interest. America would go bankrupt.

These are some of the many issues with Medicare for all: it will put every American on one health care insurance standard, which will be mediocre at best, and current proposals don’t answer the questions of how much it will cover and if wealthier people will be able to buy better insurance.

Moreover, it would likely murder the health insurance market, driving providers out of business and leaving many people unemployed. Eliminating market competition will cost the country quality insurance.

Medicare for all is a simplistic answer to the challenge of achieving universal health care. While it looks good on paper, Medicare for all could have catastrophic consequences.

Daniel Krinichanskiy (22c) is from Moscow, Russia.