In 2012, Growth & Justice released two reports containing more than 90 pages of detailed supporting data showing that Minnesotans and their employers would save almost 9 percent on total health care spending if the state had one public system for financing universal, high-quality health care (also known as “single payer” or “Medicare for All.’’)
While we’re pleased that some Minnesota Republican candidates, six years later, are finding these studies to be a credible source, and are footnoting our research widely in campaign materials, their selective focus on just one facet of the reports is egregious cherry-picking that creates an utter falsehood.
The misrepresentation began with an August Star Tribune op-ed by House Taxes Committee Chairman Greg Davids (“Editorial Counterpoint: Don’t fall for the ruse on Democrats’ health care intentions,” Aug. 29), in which he asserted that “the costs of a government-run health care system are staggering.” He then cited Growth & Justice as the source for a “cost at about $35 billion a year,” clearly implying that this amount was an additional overall cost to Minnesotans.
Since then, similar distortions are popping up in campaign literature all over the state, including a recent flier attacking Minnesota House candidate Steve Sandell of Woodbury. That brochure footnotes research we commissioned with our partners in the study at the Lewin Group, a highly respected health care industry consulting firm, and alleges that single-payer would “make health care more expensive” and “make health care worse.”
To the exact contrary, our reports stated clearly and repeatedly that by shifting to a single system of public financing — and eliminating the premiums paid to a bewildering and inefficient hodgepodge of private, public and nonprofit insurers — Minnesotans would save 8.8 percent on total health care spending. We further calculated the savings at about $1,240 per family annually, and estimated that employers who were providing health insurance would save $1,214 per employee per year, and that annual savings could be as high as 12 percent to 33 percent in later years.
And we made this assertion: “The economic savings would be significant; the potential health benefits are immeasurable.”
No system is perfect, but almost all of the world’s most prosperous free-market democracies provide some form of universal coverage and public financing, resulting in much lower costs and healthier populations than in the United States. Some are government-run top to bottom, others are publicly financed and privately delivered. What they have in common is universal access, one big pool of contributors and beneficiaries, and lifetime security.
To be sure, the national landscape does not currently favor immediate installation of Medicare for All, and it’s a difficult task for states to construct their own single-payer systems. And we at Growth & Justice agree with the recent Star Tribune editorial board opinion to the effect that the current political narrative is focused too much on the most disruptive and unlikely-to-pass version.
A more gradual national alternative would be to lower the eligibility age or allow buy-in to the highly popular federal Medicare system. In Minnesota, it’s eminently feasible to expand the eligibility and benefits under Minnesota Care, our state’s highly successful program that helps low- and moderate-income workers acquire health coverage.
Minnesota Care, by the way, was launched in the early 1990s with the help of practical and moderate Republicans, led by former Gov. Arne Carlson, who actually worked with DFL majorities in the Legislature to address rising costs and unacceptable gaps in coverage. Republicans in previous eras and throughout our state’s history have been responsible and progressive on issues of public health. (For more on this, check out former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger’s book “When Republicans Were Progressive.”)
Elected officials in both parties also can be encouraged by growing evidence of broad support among rank-and-file voters for the basic idea of a publicly financed universal system. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals that about 70 percent of Americans (about 50 percent of Republican voters and more than 80 percent of Democrats) already favor “Medicare for All” as a national policy.
Most important to keep in mind is the enormous long-term value, not fully calculated in our reports, that accrues from improving the physical and mental health and peace of mind for hundreds of thousands of our families.
Obstructionists toward this goal, who focus selectively on taxes and government costs, remind us of Oscar Wilde’s warning about cynics who “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Dane Smith is a senior fellow and president emeritus of Growth & Justice, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization.