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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, November 1st, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren takes on critics, releases plan to finance Medicare For All

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed over $20 trillion in public investment to fund her audacious healthcare plan, known as Medicare For All.

On Friday the Warren campaign released a detailed plan arguing for a number of new taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, along with offsets and other revenue-increasing measures, to provide healthcare to all.

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren participates in the Netroots Nation 2019 presidential forum (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

In an email to supporters, Warren linked her Medicare For All proposal to her decades of work researching bankruptcy. The number one reason that Americans go bankrupt is the cost of health care, and three out of four families who declare bankruptcy over health issues had insurance which failed to cover their needs.

Under the current system, eighty-seven million Americans are uninsured or “underinsured,” while tens of millions more avoid picking up prescriptions, miss critical appointments or skip recommended tests. Even for those who have adequate insurance, the average family of four pays over $12,000 a year in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, a number that rises every year.

Warren argued that a humane healthcare system should have “two absolute non-negotiables”: no American should ever die or go bankrupt because of healthcare costs; and every American should be able to see the doctors they need and get treatment, “without having to figure out who is in-network. No for-profit insurance company should be able to stop anyone…from getting the treatment they need.”

Warren’s new proposals not only seek to address the huge cost of healthcare for ordinary Americans, but also answer the question that dogged her in the last Democratic presidential primary debate – namely, whether she would increase taxes on middle income families – with a resounding “no.”

Under Warren’s plan, companies would pay in taxes what they previously paid for private employee insurance, which would raise around $8.8 trillion over the decade. An assortment of new taxes on wealth, investments and financial transactions (that would fall on the wealthiest Americans) would raise $4 trillion more. A slimmed down defense budget could also yield money for the plan.

The increase in revenue would provide for an enormous overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. If Congress created a comprehensive single payer plan for all Americans, employer-sponsored insurance would become irrelevant, freeing millions of employees of the fear of losing health coverage if they leave their job.

What’s more, the thousands of dollars spent per family on copays, deductibles, out-of-pocket costs and premiums would be eliminated. Perhaps most importantly of all, the millions of Americans currently uninsured would have full coverage.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking in Seattle

Senator Elizabeth Warren addresses a huge crowd in Seattle with the iconic Space Needle in the background (Photo: Bobby Aiyer/Northwest Progressive Institute)

Warren’s main Democratic rival quickly criticized her proposals.

The campaign of Joe Biden – who favors expanding the Patient Protection Act — said the plan was “unrealistic” and argued that “It’s impossible to pay for Medicare for All without middle-class tax increases.”

In recent Democratic primary debates, the argument over the costs of Medicare for All have usually been framed in one of two ways: Biden and other neoliberal candidates argue that Medicare for All would increase taxes – particularly emphasizing the potential burden on the middle class – while Warren and her progressive colleagues have argued that overall costs for healthcare (inclusive of insurance payments and taxes) will be dramatically reduced for the average family.

In her recent announcement, Warren preempted criticisms over taxes by pointing out that the savings her plan would offer ordinary Americans would be larger than the wealthiest saved through Trump’s gigantic 2017 tax scam.

The financial benefits of a Medicare for All system would likely be expansive.

Under the current system, health care providers (particularly pharmaceutical companies) regularly gouge prices on essential products and services – remember the antics of “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli – with patients virtually powerless to resist. Senator Warren plans to put the weight of the federal government behind an aggressive negotiation system, which could pressure healthcare providers to reduce prices for prescription drugs by as much as 70%.

Most countries in the industrialized world have some version of universal healthcare, and few politicians in those countries would argue for an American-style market-based system. In the United Kingdom, for example, the right wing popularized Brexit by promising £350 million ($453 million) a week for the National Health Service – Britain’s publicly-run health care system.

Medicare For All can’t and won’t be delivered overnight, but support is building for the idea of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.

Elizabeth Warren evidently figured the time was ripe to address the tired old “How will you pay for that?” question, which journalists always seem to ask Democratic candidates, but rarely ask Republican candidates.

The campaign also released an expert letter on cost estimate of Medicare for All, an expert letter on financing Medicare for All, and a calculator in addition to the plan itself. All these materials are available to the public and the press.

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