I’m a great admirer and appreciative reader of Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect and a frequent op-ed. writer for The Washington Post. In a recent newsletter, Meyerson tries to show how Elizabeth Warren can defend her advocacy of single-payer health care even though it will require broad-based tax increases. (As I pointed out in a recent post, Warren has been evading the tax issue, insisting that total costs will go down for most people under single payer.) Meyerson explains
…the great majority of Americans pay far more for their private insurance than they would in higher taxes [under single-payer], though what they pay now is largely concealed from them because their employer routinely takes it out of their pay. (Of course, if we do go to Medicare for All, workers will have to fight to compel their bosses to transfer the savings to them, rather than divert it into dividends and buybacks.) [emphasis added]
The idea is that total costs will go down for most people under single payer because savings on health care will more than compensate for tax increases. For people who get health insurance through their work (about half of working Americans), their employers will be able to increase wages in the amount that they used to pay in health insurance premiums. But note that last parenthetical caveat. Single payer assumes that employers will pass on their health insurance cost savings to their employees, rather than pocket the cash for themselves. Huh? What assurance is there of that? Meyerson concedes that employees will have to fight to get the savings, but how will they fight? Unionized workers can reasonably hope that their unions will get employers to pass on the savings, but unions organize only about 10% of the work force. What about everybody else? Will workers have to rely on the good-heartedness of their bosses? How will that work out? Medicare for all advocates need to acknowledge and deal credibly with this problem. Meyerson does no more than allude to the issue in a parenthetical aside. That doesn’t do the job.