The Truth Behind Medicare for All

Is America Ready for Universal Health Care?

Medicare for All
Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed universal health care with Medicare for All.. Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images

The United States ranked eleventh place for health care amongst developed nations in 2011 despite spending the most money. An analysis by The Commonwealth Fund included data on quality, access, efficiency, equity and the health of its citizens. Sad to say, the U.S. ranked last in the latter three categories.

The countries that ranked above the United States on the list had one thing in common - universal health care.

The question is whether or not the United States should follow in those footsteps.

What is Medicare for All?

Senator Bernie Sanders does not have to win the Democratic nomination to make an impact on the U.S. healthcare system. His proposed "Medicare for All" plan has led Americans to look closely at health care reform and to at least think about socialized medicine.

Medicare for All is a plan that would expand Medicare as we now know it. Instead of being limited to people 65 years and older or to those with certain disabilities, all Americans would be covered. When you consider that Medicare does not currently cover all health care services, i.e. dental and vision care, the plan is a tall order. Can it be done?

How Medicare for All Would Make Life Easier

Medicare for All takes power away from insurance companies and replaces it with a single healthcare entity run by the government. Under a single payer system, all coverage comes from the same source which will help to make costs and access to care fair nationwide.

You would no longer have to find a doctor in your "network" because ALL doctors would be in your network. Copays and deductibles would go away. Everyone in the country would have access to care. Does it sound too good to be true?

Funding Medicare for All

Such a plan comes at a cost, namely taxes. Under Sanders' proposal, every American would pay more in taxes to keep the program funded.

All Americans would be taxed an additional 2.2 percent of income and employers would pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax, though they would no longer have to pay for employee health plans. Households earning $250,000 and above would expect to pay another 4 percent or more tax on top of that. Altogether, the plan would increase federal spending by $14 trillion dollars over 10 years.

Speaking of taxes...

Ronald Reagan's Failed Medicare Reform

Few people realize that expansion of Medicare took place back in the Reagan era. The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 had a short life, however. Intended to add an outpatient prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D did not come into existence until a 2003 law created it) and to limit enrollees' copayments for covered services, the law was repealed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. The reason? Americans were outraged by the rise in taxes, even if it meant saving them from possible catastrophic medical bills and bankruptcy. How will Americans respond to the tax burden set forth in Sanders' Medicare for All plan?

How Medicare for All Would Make Life Harder

Dollars and cents are not the only cost of Medicare for All. Americans would need to consider how the plan shapes the care they receive. People who enjoy a private plan today will have to give it up. With more people in the nationwide health plan, wait times for non-emergent services will get longer. With more people in the system, access to their doctor of choice may be affected by longer wait times. Some may even have to change doctors to access care in a timely manner.

Wait times in countries with universal health care can be long. In Denmark, the mean time to get cataract surgery after the decision is made to treat is 112 days. You may not be able to get a hip replacement in England for 78 days. Any elective surgeries in Ireland or Norway will leave you waiting 75 days.

Americans may be less likely to support Medicare for All once they see the price they have to pay, both financial and personal. An Associated Press GfK Poll showed that 39 percent of Americans did not want to pay more taxes for the plan, 30 percent did not want to give up their private plans, and 47 percent of Americans opposed the long wait times for non-emergent health reasons.

Implications for America

Whether or not Medicare for All comes into existence, it has raised many issues about health care reform. America needs to decide what matters most. Does universal health care make sense and if so, how much are we willing to pay?


Alonso-Zaldivar R, Swanson E. AP-GfK Poll: Support shaky for Sanders ‘Medicare for all'. Associated Press. February 25, 2016. Accessed April 4, 2016.

Bernie Sanders. Medicare for All: Leaving No One Behind. Accessed April 4, 2016.

The Commonwealth Fund. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally. Published June 2014. Accessed April 4, 2016.

Rice T, Desmond K and Gabel J. The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act: a post-mortem. Health Affairs, 1990: 9(3): 75-87. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.9.3.75

Viberg N, Forsberg BC, Borowitz M, and Molin R. International comparisons of waiting times in health care – Limitations and prospects. Health Policy. September 2013; 112 (1-2): 53-61. doi:

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