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The big lie in Bernie Sanders' Medicare bill

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has introduced a bill that would provide "Medicare for All." His plan has a number of parts, but it ultimately rests on a huge mathematical lie. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has introduced a bill that would provide "Medicare for All."

His plan has a number of parts but ultimately rests on a huge mathematical lie.

First off, Bernie's bill would add dental and vision care to Medicare while giving government greater responsibility for paying incidental costs. That's going to be very expensive, because even without those added benefits Medicare is already extraordinarily expensive. A September 2015 study by respected economist, C. Eugene Steuerle, showed that the existing cost curve is already out of control. Take Steuerle's chart below.

The data shows that an average-earning couple turning 65 in 2030 will have paid $179,000 in Medicare taxes but will receive $621,000 in benefits before dying. That's a difference of $442,000. But as the chart's final column notes, based on current benefit trends, were that same couple to turn 65 in 2050, they would have paid $227,000 in Medicare taxes and consumed $965,000 in benefits. That's a not so small difference of $738,000.

Now consider that Bernie wants to apply this model, with more generous benefits, to a nation of 325 million people from birth to death. Show me how those sums add up, and I'll fly you to Neverland.

This mathematical incontinence brings me back to Bernie's tweet on the middle class impact of his proposal. Even ignoring Steuerle's sums, analysts across the political spectrum accept that Bernie's plan would cost well over $1 trillion a year. Such figures render a judgement of absurdity on Bernie's claims Medicare for All could be paid for by taxing "the rich," or allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug prices. The simple truth is that absent huge spending cuts elsewhere (Bernie wants the opposite), and the "death panel" cost controls that necessarily define all socialized health systems, Bernie's plan would require massive middle class tax increases. That's the only place the money can come from.

Don't believe me? Then read about the middle class tax rates in European socialized health systems.

Ultimately, Bernie's disingeniousness extends to the basic ideological foundation of his argument. When, for example, he talks about taking on "all those people that profit" from the current healthcare system, he misleads his followers on what the profit creates. Because profit is what drives the medical innovation that saves lives, it is crucial to the interests of human morality.

None of this is to say America's current healthcare system is fit for purpose. In costs, delivery, and outcomes, it most certainly is not. Still, as I've noted, there are far better alternatives to a socialized system of the kind that was proposed today.