Wall Street Journal blasts high cost of single-payer, cites paper that proves them wrong

Bernie Sanders has been talking a big game on the economy, advocating for a series of expansions of social programs that he claims will create jobs and and reduce economic inequality. But the Wall Street Journal isn’t buying it. Not for that price, at least.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.56.52 PMSee, they’ve tallied up the cost of all of these proposals and, via a quick bit of fuzzy math, come up with a price tag of $18 TRILLION dollars, $15 trillion of which comes from “Medicare for all” single-payer health insurance (you know, the program that Donald Trump says works great in Canada). And they don’t seem all that surprised by their tally, given that Sanders is, you know, an S-word.

Except, of course, their figures are a deliberate stretch. As Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post earlier today, “while Sanders does want to spend significant amounts of money, almost all of it is on things we’re already paying for; he just wants to change how we pay for them.”

And since we already spend an absurdly large amount of money on health insurance, there’s every reason to believe that single-payer would save us money, not cost us:

The Wall Street Journal, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

The Wall Street Journal, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

At the moment, total health care spending in the United States runs over $3 trillion a year; according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over the next decade (from 2015-2024), America will spend a total of $42 trillion on health care. This is money that you and I and everyone else spends…

…So let’s say that Bernie Sanders became president and passed a single-payer health care system of some sort. And let’s say that it did indeed cost $15 trillion over 10 years. Would that be $15 trillion in new money we’d be spending? No, it would be money that we’re already spending on health care, but now it would go through government. If I told you I could cut your health insurance premiums by $1,000 and increase your taxes by $1,000, you wouldn’t have lost $1,000. You’d be in the same place you are now…

…There’s something else to keep in mind: every single-payer system in the world, and there are many of them of varying flavors, is cheaper than the American health care system. Every single one. So whatever you might say about Sanders’ advocacy for a single-payer system, you can’t say it represents some kind of profligate, free-spending idea that would cost us all terrible amounts of money.

To that point, as David Dayen wrote in the Intercept, our current system, which Sanders would replace with single-payer, is already slated to cost the government $30 trillion over the next ten years. As in, twice as much as single-payer would cost, not even taking into account what we pay privately. And as for the rest of the programs that Sanders has endorsed, the cost isn’t nearly as scary as the Wall Street Journal would have you believe:

Where does the rest of the $18 trillion come from? $1.2 trillion is through expansion of Social Security. Sanders already has identified a dedicated funding stream for that, by eliminating the payroll tax cap above $250,000 in annual earnings.

The other spending programs, including rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, paid family and medical leave, bolstering private pension funds and a youth jobs program, add up to $1.8 trillion.

$1.8 trillion that lacks a specified funding stream, minus $15 trillion dollars in savings by switching to single-payer health care, equals multi-trillion dollar savings for the government.

You’d think the Journal’s analysts would have paused to reflect on this possibility, given that their source for their article about the alarmingly high cost of single-payer health care is a paper titled: “How we can afford a national single-payer health plan.”

I guess if you torture the data enough, the numbers will confess. Either way, I won’t hold my breath for the Wall Street Journal to sound the alarm bells over George Bush’s tax plan, which actually blows an unaccounted-for $3.4 trillion hole in the budget, with over half of that going directly to the top one percent. That would mean admitting that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves.

Oh wait…

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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22 Responses to “Wall Street Journal blasts high cost of single-payer, cites paper that proves them wrong”

  1. “When it comes to health care fraud, it may be safe to conclude that Canadian physicians have a cleaner bill of health than many of their American counterparts.” add most single payers systems as well.

  2. Where did the all those other countries spend those 12 trillion? If I ever heard a BS line that was it the truth is “Wall Street Journal—–Murdoch enough said. The Wall Street Journal has about as much credibility as the Supreme Court these days.1”

    Where it once was reputable as a capitalist rag today it is a propaganda sheet as most of these investment try to scare or pump people up and then try to sell them financial investments that are worthless.

  3. 2karmanot says:


  4. Houndentenor says:

    I’m reminded that Stephen Hawking was given six months to live about 40 years ago, so obviously the NIH does some things right. Even so, there are other national systems that I think would be a better model for the US than the one they have in the UK. Just about anything would be better than the constant battle Americans now have between providers and their insurance companies over every item.

  5. 2karmanot says:

    Yeah, well. FYI socialized medicine in the UK saved my life some forty years ago. So, re-examine your anti-socialized nonsense. Socialized medicine saves lives.

  6. 2karmanot says:

    Like totally groovy INDI. I’m with ya!

  7. 2karmanot says:

    Wall Street Journal—–Murdoch enough said. The Wall Street Journal has about as much credibility as the Supreme Court these days.

  8. GOOGLE~HOME+J0BS+$98~PER+HOUR says:

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  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Who do you think promotes the idea that socialist systems are automatically autocratic? Who promotes the the idea that capitalist systems are not autocratic?

  10. Naja pallida says:

    Well, there is no doubt at all that single-payer is expensive. The only thing that isn’t expensive, is not giving people health care at all. What we have is definitely more expensive than single-payer, and always will be, by design.

  11. Houndentenor says:

    I am too familiar with the vast range of quality of physicians, clinics and hospitals. I would not want to be stuck with whichever one I was assigned to. It’s bad enough being limited to who takes my insurance. No thanks. I want single payer.

  12. Hue-Man says:

    “Reducing U.S. per capita spending for hospital administration to
    Scottish or Canadian levels would have saved more than $150 billion in
    2011.” http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/in-the-literature/2014/sep/hospital-administrative-costs

    How does this happen? As a patient, there is no invoice from my doctor, hospital, or lab so there is no system to collect a bill that doesn’t exist. The billing occurs between the service provider and the single payer entity according to the provincial billing schedules. There are no billing disputes to resolve because either the service was provided at the scheduled prices or the service provider has committed fraud!

    Canadian medical fraud. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3537805/

    One of the largest costs of Sanders’ plan is providing health care to Americans who have neglected their health because they are uninsured or under-insured. But that wouldn’t matter to the WSJ because it’s only a matter of people’s lives and health…

  13. Doug105 says:

    Had that happen at a sleep clinic, the clinic was covered the doctor it turned out after 3 visits wasn’t to the tune of $600.

  14. marknc says:

    Couldn’t have said the better!! If I’m correct, medical insurance had always been non-profit and that was changed as well. So we went from healthcare designed to help the public to healthcare designed to bleed 10-15% off the top.

  15. Indigo says:

    Thanks for decoding that. I didn’t follow it. The work of the Propaganda Machine is so extensive I don’t always have the key to decoding what’s actually being said. I’m afraid that trend is not going to reverse very soon . . . not without a blood-curdling Hippie yell and another upheaval from the counter-culture. No, I don’t mean the hipsters, they’re Trustifarians. Do I mean the Neo-Socialists in the rumpled suits? I doubt it. I really do mean the Hippies in the Counter-Culture. Listen for Donovan. Or like that.

  16. BeccaM says:

    WSJ is owned by Murdoch. We should be surprised they’re now an anti-populist / pro-GOP propaganda rag just like Faux News?

    Know when the entire American health care industry started to go downhill? During the Nixon administration, when they began allowing it to go for-profit. The entire purpose of a corporation is to maximize profits for its owners and investors. Thus for something that should have been a ‘public utility’-type function became suborned to out-of-control parasitic capitalism.

    During the early 1990s, a relative of mine developed breast cancer. Despite having supposedly good health insurance at the time, and living in eastern Pennsylvania, know how many in-network oncology centers there were within a three hour drive of her home? NONE. Know how many out-of-network oncology centers there were? Dozens. It was a racket already by then and things have only gotten far, far worse in the last two decades.

    I’ll tell ya one of the core reasons behind all of this: The jingoistic message of American Exceptionalism. Over and over, Americans are being told we have “the best healthcare system in the whole world.” If you have “the best”, there is of course no need to change it. While some outcomes in the U.S. are decent, the only thing American health care is absolutely “the best” in doing is generating obscene profits and being the most expensive by a factor of 2 to 3 against all other nations on the entire planet.

    One might reasonably conclude it was designed precisely to do this. And it is why a rag like the Wall Street Journal (Motto: “Profits Uber Alles”) deliberately misrepresents data to make a HUGE savings in medical spending into the opposite.

  17. Indigo says:

    Sounds good to me. No further analysis required.

  18. nicho says:

    Wow — Rupert Murdoch newspaper gets something wrong? Knock me over with a feather.

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    Single payer is usually found in as an adjunct to capitalist health care plan and while it’s far better than Obamacare and other pro-insurance company scams, it’s definitely not socialized medicine.

    I prefer the Cuban model, a form of socialized medicine that emphasizes the best possible heath care for working people and farmers and also puts an emphasis on on aiding people in over-exploited (as opposed to underdeveloped), neo-colonial nations. “As the first nation to dedicate hundreds of health care workers to West Africa, Cuba is an unlikely hero in the Ebola outbreak.http://time.com/3556670/ebola-cuba/

  20. Houndentenor says:

    Next week I have to see an attorney about legal action to force my insurance company to pay for something as in-network, which it was (it was approved in advance even) rather than out of network which will cost me a small fortune.

    For those against single-payer, tell me, how could single payer be any worse. I never know what anything is going to cost me in advance. I’m told that things are covered and then 3-4 months later bills for hundreds of dollars start appearing. I can’t just not pay (well I could but I like my good credit rating, thank you) and it’s not like I could have looked for alternatives in advance. I might have shopped around IF they had just told me what it was going to cost. I get that in medicine sometimes things are more complicated once they start a procedure or surgery or something, but that is not the case here. Why can’t they tell me what I will owe up front and why do they get to hold me hostage financially until I pay something that I don’t think I owe.

    This is a “system” in which large corporations get to fuck over working Americans and because they have bought and paid for our entire government there’s not a fucking thing we can do about it.

    I have been against socialized medicine and single payer my whole life. I like free markets and competition but there is little of either in our current system. I would certain never agree to purchase anything else without detailed information about what I would be charged. American health care is not a free market; it’s a hostage situation. Too many Americans clearly suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. I’m tired of being fucked around and paying for it. Paying a lot.

  21. Houndentenor says:

    We could fund single payer healthcare for what we currently pay in health insurance premiums and have money left over. Kucinich said this in 2008: We’re already paying for universal health care. We’re just not getting it.

    btw, I’m for single payer (many health care service providers, but one health care system) but not socialized medicine (all doctors, hospital clinics operated by a single government agency. If you look at health care in various countries I think we’d all prefer something more akin to the systems in Germany, Switzerland or France (single payer) but not the one in the UK (socialized). I know a lot of people use socialized and single-payer interchangeably, but they shouldn’t.

  22. Bill_Perdue says:

    Socialized medicine paid for by draconian taxes on the rich is the answer.

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