Markets
HCA

Can Medicare-for-All Save You 73% on Your Doctor's Bill?

"What a Medicare for All program does is finally provide in this country

healthcare for every man, woman and child as a right."

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders

"I don't want to see us start over again with a contentious debate."

-- Sec. Hillary Clinton

Image source: NerdWallet .

And that's just the average. Echoing similar findings by the Department of Health and Human Services , the survey noted that, among the many, many different medical procedures offered here in the 21st Century, different hospitals offer one and the same procedure for vastly different prices. In some instances, a procedure performed at one hospital can cost 40 times more than the same procedure offered elsewhere.

Simpler ... and cheaper medical bills

Obamacare has done a good job of getting more Americans onto the insurance rolls , but not everyone is pleased with what they find when they get there.

A report by the Kaiser Foundation last year, for example, found that as compared to the "old" system of employer-provided health insurance, deductibles for Obamacare bronze, silver, and gold insurance plans all cost patients more. Caps on out-of-pocket expenses for insured customers, too, were higher in all Obamacare plans save "platinum." Co-pays for visits to a primary care physician cost more for bronze and silver plans, while hospital stays cost more under all Obamacare plans.

At the same time, news reports from multiple sources warn that insurance premiums -- the admission ticket that must be purchased before all these other costs can be incurred -- are spiking faster than expected. By at least one estimate, premiums across the four "metal" levels of Obamacare could rise as much as 20% on average in 2016.

That shouldn't happen under a Medicare for All system. Indeed, according to Sen. Sanders, most Americans will reap significant savings under Medicare for all. A CNN analysis of the Senator's plan suggests that a family of four with one wage earner, earning the average annual wage of $50,000, would save about $7,000 through the elimination of premiums and deductibles, while paying only $1,100 more in taxes in lieu of insurance premiums. That's a net savings of roughly $6,000. (Higher income families wouldn't fare as well, because they'd pay significantly more in taxes).

Simpler, cheaper, and less to worry about

One of the biggest gripes consumers have about the old system of healthcare -- and one that continues under Obamacare -- is the fact that

when a patient checks into a hospital or visits a doctor, they have no idea what their medical services will cost. It's not like hospitals offer a menu of prices after all. Most of us have no idea what a procedure will cost until (months after) the procedure has been performed, and the bill arrives. So even under Obamacare, there's a real risk of getting gouged.

That wouldn't happen under a Medicare for All system either. Single payer would be a "one-and-done" deal. You pay your taxes and -- voila -- you can stop worrying about prices. That becomes the government's problem -- the "single payer." And with the massive negotiating power it would have in being able to bring 319 million customers to the hospitals that deliver the best services at the lowest prices, it's easy to see how Medicare for All could negotiate 73% discounts -- or more -- on overinflated hospital bills.

This would be welcome news for many patients, frustrated with how the hospital system (still) works under Obamacare. It could also be good news for taxpayers. According to Harvard Medical School visiting professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, a Medicare for All healthcare system would be incredibly efficient, cost-wise. On average, only 2% of the revenues that flow through Medicare today go to "overhead." In contrast, patients who subscribe to private Medicare Advantage plans, for example, spend 14% of their money on overhead -- and Obamacare's 80-20 rule permits insurers to divert as much as 20% of healthcare spending to things other than paying for actual healthcare services.

Meanwhile, even under Obamacare, the overall cost of healthcare keeps rising. Just last year, we saw 231 health insurers request permission to raise their rates by double digits .

Data source: January 15 Progressive Change Institute Poll .

Sounds good. Where do I sign up for Medicare for All?

Surveys show that a bare majority of Americans favor a single-payer system like Medicare for All proposal -- but not everyone is a fan. Seventy-three percent savings on medical costs might be good for patients. But companies are already smarting from the pains imposed by Obamacare, and may not be eager to see government horn in on their business any more.

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), for example, was an early supporter of Obamacare and enthusiastic about the program's ability to bring it millions of new paying customers. But after seeing profits drop 19% in the last quarter, UnitedHealth Group says it may now exit Obamacare and cease to offer plans under the current system.

Would it prefer Medicare for All? Unlikely. Indeed, there's a very real question about whether private health insurers like United Healthcare could compete with -- or would be allowed to compete with -- a Medicare for All system covering the whole population.

At the same time, hospital chains like HCA Holdings (NYSE: HCA) that are just beginning to figure out how to make money from rising spending on healthcare under Obamacare, may not want to see their boats rocked by another change. HCA saw profits sink 13% last quarter, triggering an earnings warning on Q4. Actual Q4 results came out this week, though, and showed record earnings for HCA. Medicare for All's potential 73% discount would almost certainly put a kibosh on those profits.

The upshot

Under a President Sanders, Medicare for All would clearly be a priority program, and one that it seems many voters would support. It's not hard to see how a President Clinton, too, might "move to the left" on single-payer healthcare in an attempt to capture the votes of Sanders supporters. Heck -- for that matter, even a President Trump might favor Medicare for All. He has, after all, advocated it in the past.

But given the armies of lobbyists that companies like United Healthcare, HCA, and other members of the medical establishment would deploy in Congress, opposition to Medicare for All could be fierce. Attractive as those 73% savings might be, they might also be a long time coming.

The next billion-dollar iSecret

The world's biggest tech company forgot to show you something at its recent event, but a few Wall Street analysts and the Fool didn't miss a beat: There's a small company that's powering their brand-new gadgets and the coming revolution in technology. And we think its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early in-the-know investors! To be one of them, just click here .

The article Can Medicare-for-All Save You 73% on Your Doctor's Bill? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Having just opened his latest doctor's bill, Fool contributorRich Smith would jump at the chance to cut that bill by 73%.Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him onMotley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 249 out of more than 75,000 rated members.The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

Copyright © 1995 - 2016 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

In This Story

HCA UNH

Other Topics

Stocks

Latest Markets Videos

    The Motley Fool

    Founded in 1993 in Alexandria, VA., by brothers David and Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool is a multimedia financial-services company dedicated to building the world's greatest investment community. Reaching millions of people each month through its website, books, newspaper column, radio show, television appearances, and subscription newsletter services, The Motley Fool champions shareholder values and advocates tirelessly for the individual investor. The company's name was taken from Shakespeare, whose wise fools both instructed and amused, and could speak the truth to the king -- without getting their heads lopped off.

    Learn More