If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what “Medicare for All” (M4A) really means, you aren’t alone. This proposed program would bring nationalized healthcare to the United States. Unfortunately, the specifics are, at times, confusing and difficult to understand. That’s only natural. After all, there are many different competing visions for Medicare for All, each with advocates and detractors.
Still, there are many things that these proposals all have in common. This article will break them down for you. By the end of it, you’ll walk away with a much better understanding of the healthcare system and progressive policy.
What is Medicare?
Accoding to Clearmatch Medicare, it’s a program for adults over the age of 65 that completely covers certain healthcare services. It has its origins in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, where the health service was first conceived. At the time, a solid number of people under the age of 65 weren’t covered by insurance. Senior citizens, naturally, visit doctors and hospitals much more than younger adults do. That meant that their interactions with the system at the time were raising the prices of healthcare across the country. Not only that, but many older people were dying as a result of a lack of coverage. President Johnson fixed that with this program. After its implementation, death rates around the country immediately began to drop. The average lifespan of an American citizen swiftly increased. That’s why, even though many welfare programs from the 60s have since been done away with, this program, in particular, has stuck around.
M4A is a specific form of single-payer healthcare—a public healthcare system where the government provides healthcare for everyone. In most versions of the proposal, it involves specifically expanding the program to cover all Americans, rather than just senior citizens. In that context, M4A tends to mean an end to private insurance as Americans currently understand it. Some versions of the proposal see rump insurance networks kept around to cover gaps in coverage, as exists now with the ordinary program. However, more ambitious proposals instead suggest that M4A would be more comprehensive than the system that exists for senior citizens. In those versions of the idea, there are no gaps in coverage for any American. Insurance’s role would only be to pay for purely cosmetic procedures.
A similar situation exists for privately owned hospitals and doctor’s offices. It seems plausible that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers would become public employees. Some economists predict that would mean a large drop in salary for most professions in the healthcare field. That’s not something anyone is capable of predicting at this stage.
How Much Will It Cost?
Supporters and detractors of M4A tend to split evenly among party lines. Democrats broadly support it. Republicans broadly oppose it. Cost is the most common objection that M4A’s detractors have. Time and time again, Republicans ask their colleagues in the Senate: “How much will it cost?” Unfortunately, it’s just not clear. Different research organizations have published different data. At the high end, M4A is expected to cost the government several trillion dollars. It’s worth noting that the U.S. already spends $2.2 trillion every year on healthcare expenses. It’s not immediately obvious whether switching to M4A would save the government money or not, but more and more research on the subject is being carried out each day.
Will It Happen?
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is one of the biggest advocates of a single-payer healthcare system in the United States. In fact, the central pillar of his 2020 presidential campaign was M4A. However, Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary nomination to former vice president Joe Biden. He won’t be implementing his ideas himself. But they have caught on. Increasing proportions of the population support M4A. It’s likely that, if voters were given a specific plan for single-payer healthcare rather than a nebulous idea, that number would drop. The margins of support are such, however, that most Americans would probably still support the plan. It’s entirely possible that, as the United States continues its march towards the next century, these ideas might be implemented in a future president’s own Great Society-like programs. Only time will tell.