Sen. Bernie Sanders’ takeover of American health care

The reconciliation legislation has so many bad features, it is easy to lose track of some of them.

The worst, by far, are the provisions that would allow the federal seizure of American medicine. Senator Sanders‘ takeover of health care will lead to higher Medicare premiums, drug shortages, rationing of care, benefit cuts, and tax hikes.

It’s expensive, too.  The “health care” provisions are projected to cost $1.3 trillion, about 40% more than the original Affordable Care Act legislation.

The plan would expand government programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare.  As more Americans become dependent on government health care – and as private health insurance is destabilized — a point will be reached where nationalization of health care will become inevitable.

In such a system, politicians and bureaucrats will make all the material decisions rather than by patients and their doctors. Allocation of resources will become politicized, and the sclerotic bureaucracy will limit and ration access to doctors and therapies as patients die on waitlists.  There will be no consumer choice.

The pathologies of government systems have well-documented.  My friends at Americans for Prosperity note that Canadians receive fewer cancer screenings than Americans do and have higher mortality rates for certain cancers.   The median wait time in Canada for an MRI scan is more than two months; to be treated by a specialist, more than five months.

In Canada, people have access to just 44 percent of new life-saving drugs.  Patients in Spain and Greece have access to a mere 14 percent.  By comparison, Americans enjoy access to 89 percent of new drugs.

In short, citizens in government systems pay for their “free” government health care in suffering, lost income, and preventable deaths. 

This brings us back to reconciliation.

Most ominously, under the Sanders‘ plan, the federal bureaucracy will mandate the price of every prescription drug in America; the bureaucrats who run Medicare will be allowed to dictate prices on behalf of all insurance plans, private as well as public.

This guarantees drug rationing and fewer life-saving cures.  Government price controls always crush innovation and produce disastrous and suboptimal results.

A study by economists at the University of Chicago projects that as many as 342 fewer cures will be developed over the first few decades of government control. That’s because research and development spending will drop by as much as $2 trillion.

How many people will wind up dead because of that?

It gets worse. Senator Sanders‘s plan includes $370 billion for duplicative dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare; $165 billion to expand the Affordable Care Act; $300 billion to expand Medicaid; a $400 billion Medicaid giveaway to unions; and $200 billion to change Medicare eligibility age to 60.

While new and expanded benefits may sound good, they set up Medicare for a financial crisis that will lead to huge tax increases, benefit cuts, and premium hikes. 

Adding new benefits to Medicare will almost certainly lead to higher Part B premiums for seniors.  Seniors pay about 25 percent of program costs; taxpayers pay the rest.  If spending goes up, so will premiums, and so will taxes.

Medicare already covers serious medical problems affecting the eyes, teeth, and ears.  Senator Sanders‘s plan would only add coverage for peripheral items, like routine checkups, cleanings, dentures, eyeglasses, and hearing aids.

Moreover, many seniors already have access to dental, vision, and hearing benefits through the popular Medicare Advantage option, and adding these costly and unnecessary benefits is a waste of money. It will lead to higher premiums and (again) higher taxes. 

Finally, Senator Sanders wants to change the Medicare eligibility age to 60.  That will increase the financial stress on the system and lead directly to bureaucrats rationing care.

Right now, there are about 61 million people on Medicare.  Changing the eligibility age to 60 will add nearly 23 million people to Medicare, hasten the depletion of the trust fund, and, most importantly, not materially improve health outcomes in the U.S.

Almost all of these 23 million potential new beneficiaries already have private health insurance.  Why should we jeopardize both Medicare and the private insurance system by adding those who are already insured? 

As more boomers retire, expanding eligibility will increase financial pressure on the program.  Congress will have very few options at its disposal to save the program.  Again, raising taxes, cutting benefits, and increasing premiums are about it.

But forget all that.  Forget the tax increases, the premium hikes, and the benefit cuts for a moment.  The entire debate about health care comes down to one question:  who do you trust to make decisions about your medical care — the federal bureaucracy or you and your doctors?  

Citizens want to fix what’s broken while keeping what works.  People want choice and control at a price they can afford from doctors they trust with minimal federal involvement.  

Senator Sanders‘ $1.3 trillion blowout means the very opposite: Federal control and decision-making, resulting in worse care at a higher cost.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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