For as long as Bernie Sanders has been advocating for Medicare for All he has been consistent about how it would be funded: with progressive taxation. When he acknowledged his position at a recent town hall, right-wing critics flooded the media with scaremongering attacks.
During the House Budget Committee Hearing on Single-Payer last week, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) made false claims about Medicare for All. “It means every American taxpayer and every American business has their taxes doubled, and it still doesn’t quite pay for it,” Stewart said, without citing any sources.
Stewart’s statement was “counterfactual,” as left-wing YouTube talk show host Kyle Kulinski put it. It was grounded in nothing, but it was still echoed across right-wing media.
More evidence of this trend came on Tuesday when 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders acknowledged at a campaign stop in New Hampshire that he would raise taxes, including for the middle class, to help fund a single-payer system.
“What [financing of Medicare for All] will probably end up looking like is a payroll tax on employers, an increase in income tax in a progressive way for ordinary people with a significant deductible for low-income people who will pay nothing for it,” he said in Concord, New Hampshire.
This is not breaking news. It is consistent with Sanders’s long-held beliefs. In fact, Hillary Clinton and Sanders sparred over the same issue during the 2016 Democratic primary election, and Sanders’s position has not changed.
After this latest “concession,” however, various right-wing outlets and pundits jumped at the opportunity to portray Sanders as an out-of-control “tax-and-spend” socialist. Trending stories from conservative outlets that covered his comment included coverage on Hot Air, Fox News, The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire and Breitbart. Virtually all this coverage contains the hyperbole and counterfactual nonsense Kulinski warned his audience about.
Case in point is Hot Air, which reported Wednesday that Sanders plans on “vacuuming as much money as possible out of the private sector. Some of that wealth will be ‘redistributed’ while the” rest will go toward constructing a massive federal government that will ensure equality by telling you “how to run each and every detail of your life.” [emphasis added]
Each and every detail of your life? That sounds scary indeed — but it is not rooted in any reality.
As they fight for this reform, single-payer advocates assure the public that this is a fight worth having for all but the wealthiest Americans.
“Single-payer reform would shift health care funding from premiums and out-of-pocket costs to taxes,” said David Himmelstein, a professor in the CUNY School of Urban Public Health at Hunter College, in an interview with Truthout.
“That shift would lift the financing burden from the sick (of all income groups), increase payments by wealthy persons who are relatively healthy, decrease health care costs for most middle-income and poor people, but increase costs for a modest number of healthy middle-income people who currently receive extremely comprehensive employer-paid coverage with no or very minimal copayments and deductibles.”
Bashing Canada for Old Times’ Sake
Several of the right-wing articles about Sanders’s proposal pivot to the subject of the Canadian system, which the right describes as a hellish dystopia. This has been a go-to tactic for opponents of single-payer for years, despite the fact that the Canadian system is ranked much higher than the U.S. system on almost every score, according to The Commonwealth Fund annual results comparing health systems. Sanders took a trip to Canada to study its health care system in late 2017.
“Sanders does not talk about the well-known problems with Canadian medicare, such as lengthy wait times for a variety of operations,” the Caller alleges, before making the following false claim: “The conservative think tank [Fraser Institute of Canada] also reported that the average Canadian family spends more than $12,000 in taxes on government-funded health care.”
This is nothing short of absurd. The Fraser Study does not claim the “average Canadian family” spends more than $12,000. It is talking about the so-called “typical Canadian family,” which they describe as a family of four making $127,000.
The Caller does not make a distinction and wrongly says the average Canadian family spends $12,000 annually on health care. In fact, even those high earners who pay more than $12,000 a year in Canada are getting a better deal than Americans. In the U.S., the average person (not family) pays more than $11,916 per capita for health care — more than double the average annual individual health care expenditure for Canada ($5,782 per capita), and for the 36-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ($4,826 per capita), according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
The Daily Wire‘s May 29 report by right-wing critic Emily Zanotti is also quite flawed. It quotes the $32 trillion price tag estimated by a Koch-connected right-wing think tank, without mentioning over how many years this money would be spent and how it compares to current health spending. Breitbart reports that “Medicare for All would cost more than $30 trillion,” again, with no mention of current expenditures or time period. This $32 trillion number is, in fact, cited widely across right-wing media with no context whatsoever.
The Free Stuff Fallacy
“Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) seems to be embracing a new tactic in his speeches, now that he seems to be falling behind in the primary polls: radical honesty,” writes Zanotti. “At least Bernie’s finally being honest…. For years, Sanders and his progressive colleagues have touted the magical “Medicare for all” plan as … ‘free’ to all Americans. But nothing is really ever free, especially for Bernie Sanders.”
In fact, allegations of offering “free stuff” have been used to attack Sanders by his critics in both parties. He has been upfront about the need for a middle-class tax increase for years.
The right’s reaction to Sanders is a reminder that opponents of Sanders and Medicare for All, in many cases, either do not understand the issue or are intentionally misleading their audience. Neither is acceptable.
What is important for the single-payer movement, advocates say, is to educate the public about what these numbers mean in the context of our current health care system.
The primary appeal of single payer is actually that it provides cost savings by reducing administrative waste, ending corporate profits from insurance companies, and taking profit out of the system. It is the only proposal for universal health care in the United States that can substantially lower costs for individuals.