The case for single-payer, explained in 3 charts

I hope you aren’t sick of single-payer projections yet. RAND has a fascinating new one, looking at a New York plan for universal coverage.

First, the specifics of the New York Health Act:

The RAND study’s big-picture findings read like a state-level version of George Mason University’s analysis of Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill:

But RAND gets a little more granular and helps to answer some of the questions about winners and losers that will likely define the single-payer debate, should we ever have one in Washington.

A couple of charts explain as well as I can what single-payer in New York might look like in 2031.


As you can see, New York would be spending a modest amount less on health care after 10 years under single-payer than it would under the status quo, according to the RAND projections. $15 billion isn’t really that much in the grand scheme of things, as crazy as that sounds.

However, that same spending will cover more people and more services, and more of it will be spent on health care. RAND finds that New York would be spending $23 billion less on administration and $9 billion more on health care services under this single-payer plan.

Here’s another good chart:


One thing sticks out most to me: New Yorkers would be spending half as much money out of their own pockets when they go to the doctor or get a prescription under single-payer than they would under the current system: $23 billion versus $52 billion.

The other thing this chart helpfully illustrates: New tax payments would almost perfectly replace the premiums that people and their employers pay right now for private health insurance. It’s not quite an exact match, but it’s very close: $195 billion for premiums versus $210 billion in new taxes.

Then there is the question of who is paying for this new system. RAND’s conclusion is pretty simple: “We find that payments for health care would be more progressive under the NYHA [New York Health Act] than under the status quo.”


Basically everyone making under 1,000 percent or less of the federal poverty level — about $120,000 for an individual or $250,000 for a family of four in 2018 — would pay the same or less if you look at everything from their out-of-pocket spending to taxes they pay that fund health care.

A family making 139 percent of the poverty level (the Medicaid expansion cutoff) would see their spending drop from $2,700 to $1,300 under single-payer. Families who make 500 percent of the poverty level would have their spending cut from $10,000 to $6,400 on average.

Wealthier families might spend a lot more, though. The families making more than 2,000 percent of the poverty level would see their spending (a lot of this is taxes) increase from $141,700 on average in 2022 under the status quo to about $218,000 under the New York Health Act.

That is a genuine trade-off. Single-payer proponents’ support turns on the idea that health care is a human right, even for the less fortunate. So this might be a trade-off they are willing to make.

In fact, in total, if you look at the RAND research, it outlines what you could imagine as the pillars of the argument for single-payer health care:

This comes with caveats, as any projection does. It assumes single-payer would be able to substantially cut payments to providers without reducing access to care. It assumes New York Health won’t cover long-term care, which is very important as our population gets older and very expensive.

But I think between the RAND and the George Mason studies this week has shown that there is at least a case to be made for single-payer. The question will be whether its supporters can artfully make it — and whether the people find it persuasive.

This story appears in VoxCare, a newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Sign up to get VoxCare in your inbox along with more health care stats and news.

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