‘Medicare-for-all’ compounds Medicare’s current problems, Verma says

Stethoscope on wooden table with American flag reflected on the wood
A Republican policy expert says this is just the beginning of the single-payer debate. (Getty Images/Feverpitched)

Support for single-payer healthcare, including “Medicare-for-all,” is growing among Democrats in the lead-up to this November's midterm election, with implications for 2020. It's also emerging as a key point of attack for Republicans, especially with the president’s op-ed in USA Today last week.

It's become such a dominant topic that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma devoted roughly 15 minutes of a half-hour speech to it on Wednesday. Her pointed remarks came a day after a prominent Republican strategist said the policy shift would likely be a talking point for years to come.

Speaking to a crowd of insurance professionals at AHIP’s National Conference on Medicare, Verma said, bluntly, “it’s a bad idea.”

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In its current state, the program lacks flexibility, needs more oversight, and cannot be changed without congressional action, she said. Thus, “‘Medicare-for-all’ compounds the changes we already face in Medicare by adding tens of millions of Americans into the mix.”

Plus, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already shown that increased government involvement in healthcare raises costs and reduces efficiency, Verma contended.

RELATED: Instead of Medicare-for-all, consider Medicaid-for-all, says health law professor

Increasing government involvement in healthcare is “like the man who has a pounding headache who then takes a hammer to his head to make it go away,” she said.

It's not the first time Verma has gone after the policy. Both she and HHS Secretary Alex Azar have focused several speeches on denouncing the policy.

The evening prior, Topher Spiro, vice president of health policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, offered an alternative take. The ACA provides “proof points” that the government can effectively provide healthcare and increase coverage, he said.

Spiro emphasized it will be a while before we see concrete action around “Medicare-for-all” or any other single-payer proposal. Democrats need to reconcile their varying perspectives about how to move forward on healthcare, he said.

RELATED: Verma, Azar take aim at ‘Medicare-for-all' proposals

Spiro shared the stage with Lanhee Chen, a Republican strategist and policy researcher with the Hoover Institution and Stanford University.

Chen had reservations about increasing the government’s involvement in healthcare. However, he acknowledged it plays a huge role already, and said those who want the government to exit the healthcare system completely are “on a different wavelength.”

But the U.S. should get ready to hear more about “Medicare-for-all” going forward. The current debate over single-payer healthcare, Chen said, is “just the very tip of the iceberg.”

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