Progressives pulling a bait-and-switch with 'Medicare for All'

Progressives pulling a bait-and-switch with 'Medicare for All'
© Stefani Reynolds

Politicians are known to misrepresent themselves to get elected, but Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (I-Vt.) is supposed to be an exception. It is said that he has remained true to his socialist convictions through thick and thin.

Surely, such a dedicated socialist can truthfully explain what socialism is. If not he, then Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), the influential newcomer to Congress and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), could lend a hand. She must know what socialism is if Bernie won’t speak up.

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Prepare for a surprise. Sanders has consistently claimed that his socialism is a Scandinavian-type welfare state. He assures voters that his socialism is comprised of free medicine and education and a fair distribution of income, nothing more, nothing less.

Ocasio-Cortez rattles on about giving things away free and that capitalism is rotten. If pressed, she turns to recipes and social-media tips.

Those who wish for a clear definition of socialism from Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez are left with two possible interpretations: Either they have no idea, or they fear voters would be repelled if they came clean.

With a majority of the Democrat base now claiming to prefer socialism to capitalism, a flood of leftist Democrats (some newly minted) are seeking to co-opt Sanders’ platform of free this and free that. As they roll out their presidential-primary campaigns, they jostle to outbid each other in giveaways and taxing the rich.

That’s all we are going to hear from the left’s socialist crowd on the campaign trail. For those who wish to delve into what socialism really is, here are my key takeaways after having perused the DSA website

  • First, socialism gives free medical care, education, retirement and other requisites of a welfare state to all. 
  • Second, socialism will cripple private ownership of business enterprises. "Consumer representatives," worker collectives or state-run agencies will replace private owners. 
  • Third, wise technocrats, not private consumers and producers, will decide what is in the public interest because the public interest prevails over private interest. 
  • Fourth, large enterprises will be planned for the public good not directed by private profit.
  • Fifth, capitalism must be checked because it exploits women, minorities, gays, immigrants and a whole list of downtrodden folks.  

The DCA description of socialism represents the consensus view of its 50,000 members, including, we assume, Ocasio-Cortez. It spells out how to construct a socialist America in the abstract, but we have two proposed pieces of legislation that dictate how to restructure American medicine in practice.

We are curious whether these proposed pieces of legislation are consistent with or are derived from the DSA’s version of socialism.

In September 2017, Bernie Sanders and 13 Senate co-sponsors (including five current Democrat presidential candidates) put forward the "Medicare for All Act."

In March 2018, 124 Democrat “progressive” members of Congress co-sponsored House Resolution 676 (HR676),  also entitled “Medicare for All.” The Senate and House bills are similar, but we focus on HR676 and ask whether the key provisions of “Medicare for All” follow the DSA model of socialism. 

Here are the features of HR676: 

Free giveaways:  HR 676 makes health care free to all U.S. residents. (The “secretary” decides who is a resident). Moreover, all conceivable medical services (opticians, dentists, chiropractors, doctors, surgeons, medicines, hospitals, etc.) are covered.

Eliminate private health insurance: “It is unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.” HR 676 includes all conceivable medical benefits; therefore there is nothing left to insure. Health insurance, including employer plans, ceases to exist. 

Eliminate for-profit providers: “No institution may be a participating provider unless it is a public or not-for-profit institution.” All for-profit, medical-related practices must be converted to non-profits or government ownership. They are somehow to be compensated for their losses in what promises to be a massive expropriation. 

Hand control of all health-care decisions to the government: A mammoth VA-like bureaucracy will determine who is eligible, set compensation of medical providers, determine what services are covered, root out back-alley private providers and so on.

“Medicare for All” provides a revelatory snapshot of Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and, increasingly, the left of the Democrat party. It seeks to destroy private businesses that provide medical care, the most important victim being private health insurance.

HR 676 replaces market allocation with bureaucratic decision-making and control. A giant bureaucracy, not the people affected, determine what is in the public interest and what is not. All of these provisions feature prominently in the DCA version of socialism.

If enacted, HT 676 would deliver a potentially fatal shock to our medical care system that accounts for one-fifth of the economy.

Medicare for all has been the Holy Grail of the left for decades. We could perhaps dismiss HR676 as an election stunt. Do not be so confident. HR676 could become law if American voters pay no attention and fall for the false promise of a Swedish or Danish-style welfare state.

Realize that Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and the socialist wing of the Democrat party are employing a “bait and switch.” They are pretending to be European-style Social Democrats not socialists, as defined by DSA.

The European welfare state is the product of European Social Democrats who fought for improved working conditions, pensions and health care, while keeping private ownership and a market economy intact.

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Some 90 percent of the Swedish economy is privately owned, and all three Scandinavian countries outperform the U.S. in business freedom. In the process, Social Democrats forged an eventual consensus with their conservative counterparts that the “social state” (Sozialstaat) is here to stay, despite its huge cost.

That political battle is still proceeding in the United States, whose electorate does not relish the astronomical payroll and value-added taxes required to pay for the social state.

"Medicare for All," if properly explained, should markedly increase the chances of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE’s re-election. The media has already figured out that "Medicare for All" outlaws the employer health insurance of 170 million Americans and that medical resources may cover 44 million currently on Medicare but would be insufficient for 325 million. 

Tough decisions lay ahead for the Democrat presidential candidates.

Note: The piece has been updated from a previous version to reflect the author's interpretation of the DSA platform instead of a "five-point description."

Paul Roderick Gregory is a professor of economics at the University of Houston, Texas, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a research fellow at the German Institute for Economic Research.