‘Medicare for All’ fascination distracts from finding economically feasible solutions, says Baker Institute expert


Jeff Falk

‘Medicare for All’ fascination distracts from finding economically feasible solutions, says Baker Institute expert

HOUSTON — (Feb. 20, 2020) — Voters may not realize that “Medicare for All” doesn’t just mean providing coverage to people who don’t have it — it means all Americans would have coverage for essential health benefits only through a government program, according to a health policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

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Vivian Ho, the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics and a professor of economics at Rice, is available to discuss the ramifications of single-payer health care with the news media.

A George Mason University study estimated Medicare for All would increase federal budget commitments by $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years of implementation, from 2022 to 2031, said Ho, who is also a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

For perspective, the Congressional Budget Office projected federal outlays for 2020-29 (without Medicare for All) to be $57.8 trillion. So Medicare for All would represent an unprecedented increase in the size of the federal budget and likely the nation’s debt, Ho said.

Could Americans who now have insurance expect the same quality and access to health care under a single-payer system? As high as the estimated cost of Medicare for All is, the study conservatively assumed that hospitals, physicians and other providers would be reimbursed at current Medicare rates for all of the care they would provide, Ho said.

“Most voters likely do not realize that private insurance reimburses providers much more generously than Medicare,” she said. “One study of 21 frequent and costly services found that physicians received higher reimbursement for all of these services when provided to privately insured patients versus Medicare patients, and that the private insurance payments were 150% higher for 15 of these services.

“Another study found that commercial rates for hospital care are 89% higher than Medicare fee-for-service rates. Thus, maintaining similar access to health care providers for the currently insured under Medicare for All would require a substantial increase in Medicare fees, which would raise already enormous cost estimates even more.”

Ho said the shift to Medicare for All could result in a “colossal migraine” for the majority of Americans who are happy with their current insurance coverage.

“In addition, physicians, hospitals and insurance companies would strongly resist legislative proposals that threaten their living standards, weakening attempts to introduce budget-friendly universal coverage,” Ho said. “There is no doubt that the status quo in health care is unacceptable, and that we should introduce policies that make health care affordable and accessible to more Americans.

“But the fascination with Medicare for All is impractical, and it distracts us from finding solutions that are economically feasible and beneficial to individuals in need,” she said. “Let’s hope that our presidential candidates start providing us with workable solutions, so that Americans understand what they will be voting for in the coming elections.”


The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Ho. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

Related materials:

Ho bio: www.bakerinstitute.org/experts/vivian-ho

Follow the Baker Institute via Twitter @BakerInstitute.

Follow the Baker Institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences via Twitter @BakerCHB.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks as the No. 2 university-affiliated think tank in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blog.bakerinstitute.org.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.