Government health insurance systems pose serious risks to Americans

Government health insurance systems pose serious risks to Americans
© Greg Nash

As proponents of Medicare for All struggle to defend their plan to repeal the foundations of American health care — including employer-provided coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – and replace it all with a costly, one-size-fits-all, government-run, health-care system, many are claiming that a majority of Americans support their scheme. For example, in a recent opinion piece published by The Hill, George Goehl writes that “across party lines, a majority of Americans are in favor of Medicare for All.”

This claim is misleading at best, as polling makes clear that many Americans are not aware of what “Medicare for All” actually is, and when they are informed of what it means for them, a majority oppose it. In fact, a national poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this year found that 70 percent of Americans oppose Medicare for All when they learn it would “lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments,” while 60 percent oppose it when they learn it would threaten the already at-risk Medicare program.

Sixty-percent also oppose the government-run system when they learn it would force most Americans to pay more in taxes, while 58 percent oppose it when they learn it would eliminate employer-provided and other private coverage. 

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Another national survey by Kaiser shows that most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents “say they want Democrats in Congress to focus their efforts on improving and protecting the ACA” rather than passing Medicare for All. This should come as no surprise, as Democrats flipped the House last November in large part by focusing on strengthening the Affordable Care Act and protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, not on upending our entire system.

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported that under Medicare for All, “patients might face increased wait times and reduced access to care,” and such a system “could also reduce the quality of care,” while “[t]he number of hospitals and other health care facilities might also decline as a result of closures, and there might be less investment in new and existing facilities.” 

They have also confirmed that Americans “would not have a choice of insurer or health benefits,” and that Medicare for All “might not address the needs of some people.” A one-size-fits-all system, they confirm, “would significantly increase government spending and require substantial additional government resources,” which would mean significant tax increases for working families.

In the wake of last month’s House Budget Committee hearing on the impacts of a one-size-fits-all government-run health care system, it’s clear that many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking experts’ warnings and the public’s opposition seriously.

Assessing the bill’s prospects, Bloomberg reported that Medicare for All “is hitting serious obstacles in the U.S. House … [and] the effort appears unlikely to go much further,” as the legislation “hasn’t gained much support since its release in February,” while POLITICO reported that “House Democratic leaders, who worry Medicare for All could hurt the party with moderate voters, have allowed hearings on the plan, but they haven't committed to floor votes.”

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That’s good news for patients, families and taxpayers, but Americans should be aware that other, so-called “moderate” proposals — like “buy-in” or “public option” systems — would also cost taxpayers’ hard-earned money, put families’ access to and quality of care at risk, and ultimately lead to the same unaffordable one-size-fits-all system they reject.

These new government-run insurance systems are intentionally designed to be “stepping stones” to one-size-fits-all health care — a fact acknowledged even by those in favor of such proposals, including one U.S. Senator who admitted it would cause the “slow death” of employer-provided and other private coverage and serve as an “on ramp to a single-payer system.”

Recent research provides important insight into the negative impacts a new government insurance system would have on Americans’ access to quality care. One study found that hospitals “could face financial peril,” and its affects could even “force the closure of essential hospitals,” while another study found that a government insurance system like “buy in” or a “public option” would “compound financial stresses [hospitals] are already facing, potentially impacting access to care and provider quality.”

In the end, these risky government insurance systems would cause Americans to pay more to wait longer for worse care.

Families, patients and taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to suffer these consequences – and with roughly 90 percent of Americans now covered, there are far more sensible ways to extend coverage to millions more. Rather than embracing costly proposals like these, which would upend our care and start over from scratch with a one-size-fits-all government-run system, our leaders should be building upon what works in American health care, while coming together to fix what doesn’t.

Lauren Crawford Shaver is the executive director of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a partnership made up of health-care industry organizations and lobbying groups, including: American Medical Association, Federation of American Hospitals and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. She was previously the deputy assistant secretary for public affairs in health care at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and has worked on numerous Democratic political campaigns over the last decade.