Medicare for All might raise taxes but still save individuals money

$30 trillion price tag is 10-year estimate

By Tami Luhby, CNN
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(CNN) - The cost of Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" national health insurance plan prompted a heated argument between the senator and former Vice President Joe Biden, who supports building on the Affordable Care Act, at Thursday's Democratic presidential debate.

Biden hammered Sanders, saying America can't afford the roughly $30 trillion price tag for his plan.

That figure is a 10-year estimate and comes from reports issued separately by two think tanks -- neither the Sanders' campaign nor the Congressional Budget Office have calculated the cost.

However, that wouldn't be all new money. The federal government would spend much more on health care than it does now, but much of that would replace what would have been spent by individuals and employers, as well as states, on premiums, deductibles and co-payments. But overall spending on health care would be expected to go up under Medicare for All, since everyone would be covered. And experts say people would likely go to the doctor more.

Currently, health insurance isn't cheap. The average family spent about $4,700 on premiums and $3,000 on cost-sharing in 2018, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker.

This is 18% more than five years earlier.

Sanders has acknowledged that the middle class would see their taxes go up to help pay for the plan -- one of his options for financing it would levy a 4% tax on employees, exempting the first $29,000 in income for a family of four -- but he argues that many would still come out ahead because they would no longer have to pay for private insurance or for medical care.

Sanders has previously said that an earlier iteration of his Medicare for All plan -- which called for a 2.2% tax on all Americans -- would have saved a family of four earning $50,000 more than $5,800 each year.

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