May 14th, 2013
The Affordable Care Act survived the Supreme Court and a presidential election, so why does it face such an uncertain future? One reason is that it was essentially silent on how to control costs. This has led many pundits — including the likes of Paul Krugman and Robert Reich — to argue that the best approach would be to extend Medicare to everyone. A January National Research Council report on the relative disadvantage of America in global health outcomes, especially compared to countries with national health insurance, added further fuel to the fire. But is a larger government role in health insurance the best approach?
The idea of universal Medicare is powerful and attractive. Mr. Krugman points out that in the last forty years, average Medicare costs per person have grown by 400 percent while those for private insurance have increased more than 700 percent. His numbers suggest that if everyone had Medicare for the last 40 years, we might now spend only 14 percent of GDP on health care instead of nearly 18 percent, while also reaching universal coverage. Mr. Reich argues that “Medicare-for-All” would save between $58 billion and $400 billion annually, and similarly concludes: “Medicare isn’t the problem. It’s the solution.” Critics of the U.S. system are also quick to point out that Americans don’t live as long as their counterparts in countries that spend much less, suggesting universal Medicare could save money and improve our health.
The argument for universal Medicare basically comes down to three key claims: (1) Medicare gets lower prices, (2) Medicare’s administrative costs are lower; and (3) Greater spending does not mean better health. Each of these deserves closer attention.Read the rest of this entry »