To promote his single-payer health care legislation, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently sent an interesting tweet: “Average cost of childbirth in the United States: $32,000. Average cost of childbirth with Medicare for All: $0.” However, the left’s general position on population growth’s effect on the climate make one wonder why Sanders and his single-payer supporters want to facilitate additional births, whether in the United States or overseas.
As one might expect, Sanders’ tweet contained several oversimplifications and mis-statements. First, his “Medicare for All” bill would actually abolish the Medicare program. Second, the 2013 report to which Sanders referred studied the charges medical providers submitted, not just for childbirth, but for all prenatal and postpartum care. While doctors and hospitals charged patients an average of $32,063 for this year’s worth of care before and after a vaginal childbirth, insurers paid far less ($18,329)—and consumers paid only $2,244 out-of-pocket.
By contrasting total hospital charges under the current system with net costs to patients—as if the underlying cost of providing medical care would magically disappear if insurance ended out-of-pocket health spending—Sanders exaggerated the supposed benefits of single-payer health care. But what if, under Sanders’ single-payer system, Americans suddenly took greater advantage of their “free” childbirth benefits to have more children? Sanders and many of his fellow liberals say the climate would suffer.
Not one week before Sanders sent his tweet, he addressed the topic of population growth at a CNN climate forum. A member of the audience said that “human population growth has more than doubled in the past 50 years. The planet cannot sustain this growth.” In talking about “the need to curb population growth,” she asked Sanders if he would “be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate change?” Sanders responded in the affirmative, then proceeded to highlight the need for abortion and contraception, both in the United States and overseas.
In his CNN appearance, Sanders echoed statements by other leftist leaders. In February, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) asked what she considered “a legitimate question: Is it okay to still have children,” given that “there’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult?”
Following Ocasio-Cortez’ comments, Vox highlighted “a growing discussion about the ethics of having children,” due to the “a genuine concern of many young prospective parents today” about the effects of climate change. It included some questions that prospective parents have asked themselves about having children, including “how much time do I have to make a decision” to see if carbon emissions decline rapidly, and “what kinds of signals would I be sending” by making an environmental statement to eschew parenthood.
Leftists like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, and forums like Vox, have given voice to millennials seeking to avoid procreation, whether to hypothetically save the planet, avoid a dystopian future for their potential offspring, or a combination of the two. But few outlets on the left have reconciled their belief in the need to slow population growth to save the planet with their support for a single-payer system that—according to Sanders’ own statements—would encourage population growth by making it financially easier for parents to have children.
The conservative case against Sanders’ proposal encompasses the taxes, regulations, and government control necessary to create a single-payer health system. But liberals who claim to have a single-minded focus on the climate crisis should oppose single payer as well, due to the ecological effects that would logically follow.