In a recent debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders on health care, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “Bernie is the most honest person in the Senate because he believes in government running health care from cradle to grave.”
Graham is correct that Sanders is more openly socialist than other members of the Senate, at least about his views on the role of government in health care. But being upfront about a general policy position does not make Sanders honest. In fact, Sanders is one of the most blatantly dishonest politicians on either side of the aisle, particularly on health care.
‘Thousands of People Will Die’
Sanders has made numerous claims about the GOP’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than enough to judge his honesty on the subject. Perhaps Sanders’ most incendiary statement about the Republicans’ approach to fixing the broken ACA was one in which he cited a study that concluded repealing certain coverages included under the ACA could lead to between 18,100 and 27,700 additional deaths. With this study in mind, Sanders called the GOP plan “disgusting” and “immoral,” and said on Twitter: “Let us be clear and this is not trying to be overly dramatic: Thousands of people will die if the Republican health care bill becomes law.”
Sanders is being overly dramatic, however. Providing more types of coverage raises the cost of insurance, and it’s unclear if the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. It’s more likely that the costs severely outweigh the benefits to health, especially considering the “essential benefits” Sanders considers important (as evidenced by their appearance in his “Medicare For All” bill): taxpayer-funded abortion, prescription drugs, and coverage for dental, vision, and hearing aids. These benefits hardly increase life expectancy, and needlessly increase costs because not everyone needs coverage for every condition.
Democrats say “single-payer doesn’t mean single-provider.” But forcing private insurance companies to compete with the growing list of essential health benefits a “public option” offers will drive all but a remote few specialized plans out of the market. Sanders’ “Medicare For All” approach would result in a total government monopoly of the health insurance market, with few, if any, competitive options.
When Sanders says thousands will die from repealing the Affordable Care Act, he intentionally misinterprets the results of various studies implying increased health insurance coverage results in a longer average life expectancy. In reality, Sanders’ socialist health-care utopia would result in a much lower life expectancy over the long-run, even when compared with the ACA. Existing single-payer systems in other countries suffer long wait times for even the most routine treatments, a shortage of talented physicians, and a lower quality of care overall.
‘Losing’ Health Coverage They Don’t Want
Sanders warned about the 23 million people who will supposedly lose health insurance as a result of repealing the ACA, but apparently does not care about the millions of Americans who were already thrown off their plans due to the ACA, not to mention those who continue to lose their plans. Again, Sanders used a misleading figure of 23 million losing health insurance, even though most of the people included in the 23 million would choose not to purchase health insurance if they were no longer forced to buy it.
The “Medicare For All” bill would also place the federal government in charge of negotiating drug prices. The idea is that drug prices are too expensive, so Sanders’ solution is to send the government after drug companies to bully them into charging less. This is naïve and dangerous. It’s also at odds with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current mission, requiring drugs to prove they are safe and effective, rather than just safe. The FDA’s high burden of proof on drugs in development increases prices and provides a financial incentive to produce drugs with a large market potential, leaving behind people who have rare conditions that would require a more specialized drug to treat.
Under Sanders’ plan, the government could force drug prices higher through the FDA, then turn around and attempt to force drug companies to sell their products at a loss to score political points. Along with creating an unnecessarily forceful regulator, this situation could create a dangerous moral hazard. If the same entity that approves new drug applications also negotiated the prices for those drugs on behalf of a third party, the same company could be pressured into lowering prices of existing drugs in order to bring a new drug to market, resulting in seemingly random and chaotic drug price fluctuations. In addition to regulatory overreach, bribery and corruption seem more likely to occur if the government controls too many aspects of health care.
The result would be a reduced incentive to complete medical research, fewer new drugs coming to market, even higher drug prices, and thus a lower life expectancy—precisely the opposite of what Sanders says he intends.
A Public Sinecure Works for Me, Anyway
Sanders’ belief that the government can provide the equivalent of a Cadillac plan’s coverage at a lower cost than the market can offer isn’t one backed by the evidence. On the contrary, adding additional government employees to work as purchasing agents for millions of buyers of health insurance seems like a tall order, but Sanders insists Americans will be better off financially and in terms of health. Sanders cares more about imposing his political vision than about the welfare of the American people, and frequently dresses up his unrealistic proposals with feel-good platitudes and empty promises. There’s nothing honest about that.
Perhaps Sanders, who has never held a steady job except as a politician, should experience what life is like in the real world rather than living at the expense of taxpayers. Sanders and the rest of Congress are exempt from the ACA’s burdens, unlike the rest of America. For someone who supposedly cares so much about equality, Sanders has been silent for years about his own special treatment. Sanders should condemn this inequality as severely as he condemns income equality, but considering he’s busy spending time at his three upscale homes, it seems more likely that Sanders will continue to push his destructive political agenda while deceiving his uninformed voters.