You often hear the opposite when you talk to the proponents of single payer. Their claim is that the current system of private insurers is the problem and the least disruptive option would have been to insure everyone via something like Medicare for all.
Who's right? We're about to have a test case on that question. The entire country is in the midst of adjusting to Obamacare, so we're experiencing how disruptive that change will be. But there's one exception. The state of Vermont is currently working on putting together a single payer system. As Sarah Kliff recently wrote, its not as simple as it sounds.
In 2011, the Vermont legislature passed a law committing the state to single payer. But they left out one thing.
Now comes the big challenge: paying for it. Act 48 required Vermont to create a single-payer system by 2017. But the state hasn’t drafted a bill that spells out how to raise the approximately $2 billion a year Vermont needs to run the system. The state collects only $2.7 billion in tax revenue each year, so an additional $2 billion is a vexingly large sum to scrape together.Its important to keep in mind that the $2 billion is already being spent for health insurance in Vermont. So its not necessarily "new" money that is needed for health care. Its that the government needs to find a way for the people spending it to send it to the state for single payer. That's the rub.
Other than government spending on health care via Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance costs are currently a patchwork of spending by employers and employees. The question becomes: how do you tax these entities in a way that covers the costs, is not disruptive to the economy and doesn't unduly burden anyone?
Four years after committing to single payer, Vermont's Governor Shumlin is still working on that.
"We haven’t figured this one out yet," Shumlin says. "Every time you think you have the answer, there are ten people who will point out the flaw with that particular answer. And they’re usually right."When confronted with this question, the few single payer advocates who have actually addressed it suggest that we simply expand the payroll FICA tax that covers Medicare - which is paid by both employer and employee. That is certainly the most viable solution. But questions there abound as well. The portion of insurance currently covered by employers ranges from O% to 100%. Any fixed percentage payed in a FICA-like tax will result in employers/employees who line up as winners and losers. After that comes questions about how high the new tax will be and wrestling with the fact (at least for liberals) that FICA is the most regressive federal tax we pay.
So I've gone into the weeds with this one a bit. But its the kind of thing advocates of single payer need to wrestle with. Because when/if it ever becomes an actual option in the U.S., these are the political land mines that will blow up...immediately. That is what is happening in Vermont as we speak. Perhaps the best option is to simply watch and see how it goes there.
In the meantime - viva Obamacare!