News & Politics

Bernie in 1987: Medicaid for All Would 'Bankrupt the Nation'

An embarrassing discovery for Senator Bernie Sanders, who introduced a “Medicaid for All” health care bill yesterday. Sanders has promised to raise taxes to pay for the scheme but has yet to give any funding details or an ultimate price tag.

He appeared to have a much better idea of the cost of universal government-run healthcare back in 1987.

Hit and Run:

Back in 1987, a much younger Bernie Sanders apparently had that sense too. He warned that expanding Medicaid, the jointly run federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, to everyone in the country would “bankrupt the nation.”

“If we expanded Medicaid [to] everybody. Give everybody a Medicaid card—we would be spending such an astronomical sum of money that, you know, we would bankrupt the nation.”

Medicaid’s provider networks are narrower, and its benefits are generally more limited. It pays doctors quite a bit less than Medicare, on average, and it costs substantially less per capita. Relative to Medicare, it’s the bargain option.

This is a short clip, and the full version may reveal additional relevant context. But what Sanders is describing in the segment above is the comparatively high cost of health care services in the United States relative to countries like Canada. As the clip ends, Dr. Milton Terris begins to discuss the ways in which other countries limit extra charges and use the power of government monopoly to force down prices.

Forcing health care spending down to the levels seen in other countries would radically upset the system, pushing doctors out of business and likely leaving many hospitals with little choice but to close down or eliminate services. It would, at minimum, be incredibly difficult politically, since it would require decreasing funding to hospitals and other large medical facilities, which would in turn require eliminating jobs or drastically reducing compensation. At the end of every health care spending cut is an individual with a job and a paycheck.

In the clip, the young Sanders is at least making an attempt, however limited, to understand the economic and policy distinctions between the United States and other countries and why transitioning to single payer via America’s existing government-run systems would be difficult.

The plan that Sanders proposed during the presidential campaign would have cost $32 trillion over a decade.

Both Medicaid and Medicare have been called “unsustainable.” To pile tens of trillions of dollars on top of the creaking Medicaid system to fund a universal program is irresponsible governance and should disqualify anyone who proposes it from high office.

Sanders’ plan would not only bankrupt the nation, but most Americans as well.

Right the first time, Bernie.