The Urban Institute, a putatively left-leaning think tank, released a comprehensive study Wednesday that media outlets immediately seized upon as evidence that the Medicare for All proposal authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders would increase total U.S. healthcare costs by $7 trillion over the next decade.
The problem, as Matt Bruenig of the left-wing People's Policy Project pointed out Wednesday, is that the Urban Institute assessed the cost of its own made-up version of single-payer, not the 100-page Medicare for All bill Sanders introduced in April.
"The Urban plan uses hospital reimbursement rates that are 15 percent higher than the rates in the M4A legislation, meaning that its cost estimates are much higher than the actual costs of M4A," wrote Bruenig. "Urban is certainly welcome to put forward any health plans they can think of and score them to the best of their ability. But it is important for media to understand that this is Urban's single-payer plan, not the Medicare for All plan supported by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and many other congressional Democrats."
"If every major industrialized nation on Earth can make healthcare a right to all and achieve better healthcare outcomes while spending far less per person than we do, it is absurd to suggest that the United States of America cannot do the same."
—Warren Gunnels, senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders
Many mainstream and corporate media outlets, however, did not heed Bruenig's warning.
On Wednesday morning, CNN, Axios, the Associated Press, the Washington Examiner, and other outlets published articles conflating the Urban Institute's contrived "Single-Payer Enhanced" plan with Sanders' Medicare for All legislation.
CNN's Tami Luhby reported that "a new Urban Institute study shows that the nation's overall healthcare spending is expected to rise roughly $7 trillion to $59 trillion over a decade if Medicare for All goes into effect." Luhby went on to claim that "a big hike in taxes" would be required to finance Medicare for All.
The Washington Examiner, a right-wing publication, put the inflated $59 trillion figure in its headline, which also declared: "Analysis finds health spending would rise, not fall, under 'Medicare for All.'"
But as Breunig pointed out, "there are reports that have attempted to score Medicare for All as it is actually written, with the most prominent being the one produced by Charles Blahous at the right-wing Mercatus Center" last July.
"That report found that M4A would reduce national health expenditures by $2 trillion in its first decade," noted Bruenig, who was the first to highlight that finding after the Mercatus Center buried the figure.
As Common Dreams reported, media outlets effectively did the Mercatus Center's dirty work by blasting out its finding that Medicare for All would increase federal healthcare spending by $32.6 trillion while ignoring the $2 trillion in overall cost savings.
A separate study published last November by researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) estimated that Sanders' Medicare for All Act of 2017 would have saved the U.S. $5.1 trillion over a decade while providing comprehensive healthcare to all.
Warren Gunnels, senior adviser to Sanders, told Common Dreams in response to the Urban Institute analysis that the United States "currently spends over twice as much for healthcare as the average developed country."
"If every major industrialized nation on Earth can make healthcare a right to all and achieve better healthcare outcomes while spending far less per person than we do," said Gunnels, "it is absurd to suggest that the United States of America cannot do the same."
Robert Pollin, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-director of PERI, wrote in an open letter to Sanders earlier this month that he is "confident" that "the net impact of Medicare for All based on your staff proposal will be to generate substantial savings in healthcare costs for most businesses and all but the most affluent U.S. households."