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Where There's a Will, There's Single-Payer Health Care


Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders faced off this week on #CNNDebateNight, garnering interest in no small part because if political fortunes had been only slightly different — if a few million voters had zigged instead of zagged — either of these senators could now occupy the Oval Office. "The presidential debate that never was," I heard someone say.

The best talking-point, at least rhetorically, belongs to our fellow Texan — from Cruz's website:
"Sen. Sanders claims his plan would require an additional $15 trillion in taxes. According to the Urban Institute, under this Medicare for All plan, federal spending would increase by about $2.5 trillion in 2017 and by about $32 trillion over the next decade. This spending would essentially triple every American household’s income taxes. Additionally, $2.5 trillion is more than the market value of Apple ($677B), Google ($557B), Microsoft ($494B), Facebook ($384B), and AT&T ($258B) combined. The government could tax the income of those making $1 million or more at 100 percent and only collect an additional $983 billion - less than half what would be required to pay for the plan for one year." 

A lot of heat surrounded these figures during the Democratic primaries, with public health specialists for the Sanders campaign calling this and similar estimates wildly exaggerated. Still, the Urban Institute analysis did conclude that "national health expenditures would increase by a total of $518.9 billion (16.9 percent) in 2017, and by $6.6 trillion (16.6 percent) between 2017 and 2026." So, half a trillion dollars this year, close to 7 trillion dollars over the next decade. Why the discrepancy?

Sanders' plan shifts obligations that states and localities would otherwise have to pay onto the federal government's ledger. Cruz failed to mention this on Tuesday because it lets him inflate the size of the tax hike ("a tripling of your income taxes!"), which also ignores progressivity, assumes no new taxes (despite the dire need for a carbon tax, to choose one example), and further presumes no accompanying budgetary cuts (despite Sanders' campaign promise to reduce military spending).

Mentioning a list of lucrative companies in a row is deceptive if you're talking to an audience who's unfamiliar with the ginormity of the US economy. The United States is the Earth's largest; we account for almost a quarter of the world's GDP and make around $18 trillion a year. Yes, individual millionaires only skim a couple trillion off the top of that in income every year, but don't forget that corporations are people too, and there's actually an unprecedented 'corporate savings glut' — according to the New York Times, companies like Google, Apple, etc. "currently have $1.9 trillion in cash, JUST SITTING AROUND." $1.9 trillion? Why that's more than the entire yearly federal government expenditure of the United Kingdom, India, and Saudi Arabia combined!

A wonderful group fantasy transpires whenever politicians begin talking to everyday taxpayers about billions and trillions, as if we could tackle our economic conundrums around the kitchen table with a pad and pencil. '$2.5 trillion? We can't afford that! $0.5 trillion, okay sure, that's fine'. The question really is, what would we get in return? More bang for your buck, that's what. Everybody covered, full stop. The majority of bankruptcies — around half a million a year — are due to medical bills. That's over. Private sector spending on health care, according to the Urban Institute again, would've concomitantly fallen by almost $2 trillion this year and $22 trillion over the next decade, alleviating the burden on small businesses and putting the squeeze on price-gouging by Big Pharma.

And what's the Republican alternative? Repealing Obamacare and returning to a status quo that already featured skyrocketing premiums? We spend more on health care than any other advanced country yet there's still an awful lot of need out there; almost 30 million Americans remain uninsured. Cruz's hyperbolic anecdotes and scare tactics aside, single-payer plans the world over produce dramatically better outcomes at lower costs. You don't have to be a mathlete to figure that we can afford what Canada has. The problem isn't money, it's political will. And how can you put a price-tag on someone having the freedom to go to the doctor? Not a titular 'right to access' they can't use, but actual personal freedom.

If little green men landed tomorrow and started WWIII, all these fiscal constraints would instantly mean diddly-squat, given the magnitude of the patriotic commitment that'd amass to confront the common threat. Why are the still shocking numbers of your fellow Americans enduring illnesses we can treat and prematurely greeting death not a comparable national emergency?

Kevin Sanchez is a disc jockey, singer (At War With Dust), and lifelong socialist who sometimes writes words for the Current.

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