Health Care Debate Evolving In Advance Of 2016 Elections


It’s no secret a majority of Americans have consistently opposed the 2010 health care law championed by U.S. president Barack Obama. In fact, over six years of polling this legislation has never once enjoyed the popular support of a majority of Americans.  But with independent socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders pushing the national debate further to the left on health care – is Obama’s law still the issue we should be following?

In 2013, Sanders introduced his “American Health Security Act,” arguing at the time that “we must move toward a single-payer system” – or one in which the government is responsible for collecting all medical fees and disbursing payment for all medical services.

“A large-scale single-payer system already exists in the United States,” Sanders wrote.  “It’s called Medicare. People enrolled in the system give it high marks. More importantly, it has succeeded in providing near-universal coverage to Americans over the age of 65.”

Today, Sanders is campaigning on a $1.38 trillion-a-year plan to expand “Medicare to all.”  And he’s making no bones about how he intends to pay for it.

“We will raise taxes,” Sanders told a crowd at a Democratic town hall this week. “Yes we will.”

Will those tax hikes cover the tab, though?  Not according to Emory University professor Kenneth Thorpe.  According to this former Bill Clinton advisor, Sanders’ plan is simply unworkable – unless you account for a massive expansion of the deficit or tax hikes that are more than twice as high as those Sanders is proposing.  According to Thorpe’s analysis, Sanders plan would cost $2.5 trillion a year – creating roughly a $1.1 trillion deficit each year.

To fund the program, payroll and income taxes would have to increase from a combined 8.4 percent in the Sanders plan to 20 percent while also retaining all remaining tax increases on capital gains, increased marginal tax rates, the estate tax and eliminating tax expenditures,” Thorpe concluded.

Deficit math isn’t the only “game of subtraction” taking place regarding Sanders’ plan, though.

According to the American National Election Studies, there was a dramatic drop-off in public support for a single-payer health care plan between the 2008 and 2012 elections.

For decades, ANES has asked voters whether “there should be a government insurance plan which would cover all medical and hospital expenses” or whether they prefer for individuals to pay for their care through private insurance plans.  Respondents were then asked to plot themselves on a seven-point scale – with “one” meaning they fully support the government-run system and “seven” meaning they fully support the private plan.

Take a look at this chart, which shows the percentage of respondents who answered either “1, 2 or 3.”


The website Vox broke this answer down by demographic group, and discovered that  “in 2008 most Democrats were supportive of the government plan,” along with “most people in the bottom third of the income distribution and most black people.”  In 2012, however, there was a six-point drop in Democratic support and a ten-point drop in black support.

“By 2012, the only demographic sub-sample that registered majority support for the government plan was self-identified liberals, with self-identified Democrats coming close at 50 percent support,” reporter Matthew Yglesias noted.

Candidates opposing Obamacare know they will have monolithic support among Republican primary voters – and broad support among the electorate as a whole.  But as this debate continues to evolve, keep an eye on polling regarding the single-payer system – especially if Sanders’ campaign continues giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in early-voting states.