Trump Officials Scoff at ‘Medicare for All’ Drive

Medicare is running out of other people’s money, and those other people happen to be our children……

Trump Officials Scoff at ‘Medicare for All’ Drive

July 26, 2018

“Medicare is running out of other people’s money, and those other people happen to be our children,” Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said this week.Tom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is hitting back against advocates of “Medicare for all” even as the proposal gains momentum among left-leaning Democrats in this election year.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said on Thursday that the administration had a vision for “reforming the American health care system” that would shrink, not expand, the federal role.

In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mr. Azar said that Medicare could barely afford to keep its current commitments. “Medicare is running out of other people’s money, and those other people happen to be our children,” he said.

Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was even more pointed in her criticism.

Medicare is meant for “a very specific population,” older Americans and people with disabilities, Ms. Verma said on Wednesday in a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Offering it to every American would not only strain the finances of Medicare, but also “run the risk of depriving seniors of the coverage” they have, she said.

“Ideas like Medicare for all would only serve to hurt and divert focus from seniors,” Ms. Verma said, predicting that, “in essence, Medicare for all would become Medicare for none.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and a leading champion of Medicare for all, dismissed the criticism.

“Medicare has worked extremely well for our nation’s seniors and will work equally well for all Americans,” Mr. Sanders said. “It is extremely concerning that the person charged with administering Medicare would rather throw 32 million Americans off the health insurance they have than join every major nation on earth and guarantee health care as a fundamental right.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, supported last year by President Trump and other Republicans, would have increased the number of people who are uninsured by 32 million.

Mr. Sanders is the chief sponsor of a bill, the Medicare for All Act, that starts by declaring, “Every individual who is a resident of the United States is entitled to benefits for health care services.” The bill would greatly reduce consumers’ out-of-pocket costs. The secretary of health and human services would establish a “national health budget,” set payment rates for health care providers, negotiate prices to be paid for prescription drugs and establish lists of covered drugs.

Fifteen Democratic senators have signed on as co-sponsors of Mr. Sanders’s bill. They include potential candidates for president in 2020 like Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Democrats are already emphasizing the matter in midterm election campaigns.

“Health care is going to be the biggest issue in 2018,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “It is far more important to the vast majority of Americans than any other issue.”

In the House, 70 Democrats announced last week that they had formed a Medicare for All Congressional Caucus to build the case for such legislation. A bill to achieve that goal has been endorsed by 120 House Democrats, or about 62 percent of the party’s members in that chamber.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and a leader of the Medicare for All Caucus, said Trump administration officials seemed “blind to the fact that a majority of Americans support expanding, not weakening, health care.”

A single-payer health care system would be much simpler and could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year, Ms. Jayapal said.

A study by a team of researchers at the Urban Institute in 2016, when Mr. Sanders was running for president, estimated that an earlier version of his plan could increase national health spending by a total of $6.6 trillion over 10 years. The proposal would shift spending from the private sector and states to the federal government, so, it said, federal spending could increase by $32 trillion over 10 years.

Mr. Sanders takes issue with those estimates. The cost would depend, in part, on how much the government paid for care provided to new beneficiaries. The Urban Institute team assumed that payment rates would be like those currently used in Medicare.

The Trump administration mobilized a major effort last year to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Just days before a climactic Senate vote in late July, Energy Secretary Rick Perry circulated a newspaper column urging Congress to “repeal this crushing law,” and his department posted a message on Twitter drawing attention to his column.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, ruled on Thursday that the Twitter post violated federal law because the Energy Department was not authorized to spend money for that purpose.

Mr. Perry could not show any “reasonable and logical relationship between tweeting about health care and the purposes” for which Congress provided money to his department, said Thomas H. Armstrong, the general counsel of the Government Accountability Office.

A version of this article appears in print on July 26, 2018 , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump Officials Scoff At ‘Medicare for All’ Drive. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe