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Economists endorsed a unified public insurance system, not a fractured multi-payer insurance system

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Publication Date: 
August 1, 2019

247 economists sent a letter to Congress supporting a universal, publicly financed, single-payer Medicare for All system to guarantee health care for all while also reducing health care costs.

The letter has been misrepresented by Senator Kamala Harris's presidential campaign to suggest that a program labeled "Medicare for All" but including private insurers would reduce national health care costs. That is not true and not what the letter says.

In the letter, the economists make clear that they are specifically referring to a unified financing system with a single public payer:

They go on to explain that cost savings would be achieved by streamlining administration (and eliminating profits and marketing costs) through a single public insurer, while also controlling drug and hospital prices:

"A single-payer Medicare for All system can achieve enormous savings by dramatically simplifying administrative costs in the areas of contracting, claims processing, credentialing providers and payments validation," explains Robert Pollin, Distinguished University Professor of Economics and Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts - Amherst and a co-author of the letter.

"These savings would be huge," he says, "in the range of $300 billion per year—nearly $1,000 per year for every U.S. resident—relative to a for-profit, multi-payer insurance system. Any proposals that continue to prop up the bloated and redundant private-insurance system forfeit this massive savings opportunity.”

The economists leave no room to interpret their letter as a reference to a multi-payer private-and-public insurance system of the sort Harris has proposed. Their statement should not be misrepresented.

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