Rebuttal Against Sanders: Healthcare
Alexander Haney, Fiscal Policy Contributor
Bernie Sanders made waves in 2015 by placing both his persona and his ideas on social and economic equality on the mainstream of political debate. The Vermont senator and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist carried the youth vote during the 2015-2016 Democratic primaries. He won 84% against Clinton’s 14% of the 17-29 age bracket in Iowa. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Sanders won more youth votes in the primaries than Trump and Clinton combined, with 1,942,657 votes in the 17-29 age bracket. A lot of that success comes from young voters’ disillusion with the status quo in politics. While Sanders supporters and Libertarians generally agree in their distaste for the current political establishment, the two groups fall on opposite sides in regards to the best solution. Sanders locked in his support from the youth in this country with his promises of a reformed economic system, with its core tenants based in equality. Of course, nothing is truly free. As economist Milton Friedman once said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” In short, someone is paying.
In the first entry to this series debunking the ideas proposed by Bernie Sanders, let us first consider the issue of healthcare.
On his website, Sanders lays out the moral foundation of his beliefs on healthcare, saying, “[i]t is time for this country to join [every other major industrialized nation] and fulfill the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and other great Democrats.” All three of these men have been heralded as champions of the working class and of the people. Such phrases are regularly co-opted by those on the left in order to give their position the moral high ground. Roosevelt, especially, is often held up as one of the greatest presidents in American history. There is no doubt that he was popular, but popular is not synonymous with good.
Every political mandate involves two major issues: 1) economics, and 2) morality. How much will something cost? Is it morally right? Socialism tends to look at things from a moral perspective as a priority over the economics involved. To quote the great scientist Malcolm Ian, “[y]ou were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” Obviously, the quote is meant as a joke, but it is not terribly far off from reality. Building a park of dinosaurs, after it ended rather bloodily the first three times, is similar to trying Socialism again, after it has only lead to poverty and shared misery every time it has been tried, such as in China, the former Soviet Union, and most recently, Venezuela. Proponents of the socialist system often cite Scandinavian states as successful models of socialism. However, none of these states actually implement socialism.
So, is free, universal healthcare possible? Absolutely not. First and foremost, doctors do not work for free, nor do nurses, technicians, janitors, or anyone else involved in the healthcare process. They have to be paid from somewhere, which means the work is not free. Medical expenses would be paid for through taxes, meaning that it would cost everyone something. Bernie’s plan states a progressive tax system, with:
- 37 percent on income between $250,000 and $500,000;
- 43 percent on income between $500,000 and $2 million;
- 48 percent on income between $2 million and $10 million;
- 52 percent on income above $10 million.
Notice that the plan does not mention any person’s tax responsibility below the $250,000 mark. We can assume one of two things. Either no one below that mark will be charged any taxes toward this plan, or the taxes they will be charged are high enough that it would look bad on paper. Either way, not one of the brackets listed would be taxed less than ⅓ of its annual income. That is most assuredly not “free.” The actual price tag is roughly eighteen trillion dollars ($18,000,000,000,000). The Wall Street Journal collected data from H.R. 676 and estimated the breakdown of that figure.
Senator Sanders seeks a single-payer system for healthcare, placing government squarely in charge of payments for any and all medical procedures. Canada is often cited as a standard that America should aim for in the realm of publicly funded healthcare. Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Nadeem Esmail notes that “Canada's health care [sic] system is the developed world's most expensive universal-access health care program after adjusting for the age of the population.” The Canadian system suffers from long wait times (an average of 17.7 weeks to get treatment), fiscally unmotivated physicians, and outdated technologies. The Fraser Institute is a Canadian public policy think tank, which conducted a study in 2015 that showed, among other findings, that in 2014, more than 52,000 Canadians received non-emergency medical treatment outside of Canada. For all the money spent by the Canadian government on healthcare, many citizens who can afford to seek healthcare elsewhere, do.
Bernie Sanders complains about the high cost of health insurance in the US, but that is due to heavy government involvement in the system. Seven states have only one major health insurance carrier, leading to a monopoly dominating the market. Without competition, companies can generally charge whatever they want and have no incentive to provide better service. Of course, this is mostly because citizens are not allowed to buy insurance across state lines and internationally. Furthermore, some companies are leaving the health insurance business altogether because it is not profitable under the current Obamacare system. Further regulation would only exacerbate the problem. The same government that Sanders would like to see take total control of healthcare is the reason that insurance is so expensive to begin with. This article at The Daily Wire lays out eleven of the major problems with ObamaCare. These same problems are caused by practices that socialized healthcare would conduct tenfold.
Recently, I wrote an article about why taxation is in fact theft. Theft is certainly immoral. Healthcare is often referred to as a right though, meaning that all people are entitled to it as a function of being alive. One would be hard pressed to find a person in the United States that would not like to see every person be able to receive the pinnacle of medical care at any given moment. Such a utopian idea is just that, though: utopian. Economics does not allow for such a world, as it is an imperfect world we inhabit. The best we can do is try to live morally. The moral argument used by the left to push the idea of universal healthcare is that it would be be for the greater good of society. Utilitarianism is a common trope on the left of the political spectrum. In order to achieve universal healthcare, taxes would have to be raised exorbitantly, as discussed previously. Taxing incomes of over $1 million at 100% would generate $616 billion. Naturally, the rich would not be the only ones taxed, lest the threat of revolt become actualized. Ergo, the tax burden would necessarily be spread amongst the middle class, as well. As of December 2016, Sweden levied a 57% income tax rate against individual citizens, which was the fourth highest rate in the world, at the time.
Sanders’s plan would require the wealthy and healthcare professionals to work for free. The cost of the plan would require taxation of the top tax brackets at nearly 100%. If healthcare is a right, then this is acceptable. If I am entitled by right to healthcare, then I can legally force a doctor to provide me with his services for free, under threat of punishment by law, unless determined by a court that I am no longer entitled to such services. The right to vote may be looked to as an example. That situation is slavery. Such a label may come off as hyperbolic, given our narrow view of slavery as shaped by American history, but it is entirely accurate. By no means is this an original idea, either. Columnists, philosophers, economists, and others have made the point numerous times. Forced labor is immoral, period. The economics of the system would create an environment in which citizens would be less incentivized to become physicians. Eventually, enrollment numbers would drop to the level of insufficiency, thus requiring the government to mandate career choices for some. The same would necessarily happen in other sectors, as well.
The question is sometimes asked, “Is it not immoral to allow a person to die because they could not afford healthcare?” I would argue that it is, but that the point is based on a false dichotomy. The choice is not “have mandated healthcare” or “die.” The United States is the most charitable country in the world. As a culture, we tend to help each other more often than not. A Kickstarter campaign was started recently to raise money for Syrian refugees, and in less than 24 hours, the charity had raised over $1 million. I have personal experience in the area of charitable organizations. As a child I was seen regularly by Shriners Children’s Hospital. While my reason for being seen was relatively benign, other children are seen by the organization across the country for often very serious conditions. The one thing all the families who use the service have in common is that none pay a single penny. Shriners is funded by donations and proves that such models can and do exist. This is only one of hundreds of examples of charitable organizations. The bottom line is that health insurance is not necessary to receive healthcare.
Healthcare is not a right. It is a service. It can be a very expensive service. No one has the right to force another person to provide them with something, even if it is a matter of life or death. That is a personal moral issue which must be decided upon by the individual. The morality of the issue is broad in its scope, and can apply to virtually all leftist ideas regarding universalism. The economics of universal healthcare are more specific. Morality can be pushed to the side in order to make something work. Economics, on the other hand, cannot. We have already seen the disastrous effects of Obamacare in our own country, and of total government control in others. Look no farther than the situation in Venezuela today, or the history of Chile to see that Capitalistic societies maintain order, freedom, and fairness to the greatest extent possible. Socialist and communist societies inevitably falter. To close, consider the following: even if Sanders is the perfect human, exemplary in all ways, he will not be around forever. Should his system be put into place, another person would eventually inherit it, power and all.