More States Are Proposing Single-Payer Health Care. Why Aren’t They Succeeding?
“Health care policy researchers Erin C. Fuse Brown and Elizabeth McCuskey tracked the number of unique single-payer bills introduced in state legislatures across the country from 2010 to 2019, finding a sharp uptick in bills introduced since 2017. During each of those three years, at least 10 single-payer proposals were introduced, according to Brown and McCuskey’s research, for the first time since 2013. In total, state legislators proposed more single-payer bills from 2017 to 2019 than in the previous seven years combined. And for 2021, we’ve identified 10 single-payer bills that legislators introduced across the country, from liberal states like California and Massachusetts to more conservative ones including Iowa and Ohio.1
What do all these proposals have in common? They’ve all universally failed. In fact, Vermont, the only state that managed to pass single-payer health care in 2011, ended up shelving its plan three years later.”
“passing single-payer health care at the state level is next to impossible, as states are particularly limited in how they can allocate federal and private health care funds. There is, however, evidence that Americans may have an appetite for a public option, or government-run health insurance that people can opt into at the state level. Three states (Colorado, Nevada and Washington) have already passed a public option. It’s not single-payer health care reform, but it’s possible that we might see more states adopt their own public-option reforms.
One big reason single-payer proposals haven’t caught on at the state level is because finding a reliable way to pay for such a program is challenging. Single-payer advocates originally envisioned a federal proposal that would cover all Americans under a more generous version of a preexisting program — that is, Medicare, but now for all. Doing this state-by-state would require each state to apply for waivers to divert federal funds used for Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act exchanges to be used for their own single-payer plans. And that’s tricky because the Department of Health and Human Services has wide discretion to approve or deny states’ requests, which makes any proposal highly dependent on the national political climate.”
“Employer-sponsored health insurance plans, which cover 54 percent of Americans, are another hurdle for states trying to pass single-payer health care. Federal law largely prevents states from regulating employer-provided health insurance, so states can’t just stop employers from offering their own health care benefits. The exact scope of this law has been litigated for decades, but suffice it to say that it’s successfully put the kibosh on many statewide health care reforms. Single-payer health insurance is particularly tricky as there’s no way to get everyone onto the plan without first changing how private insurance works. States have tried to address this through measures like increasing payroll taxes or restricting providers’ ability to accept reimbursement from private insurance plans. But the more elaborate these mechanisms get, the more complicated it becomes to implement — and the more people that could slip through the cracks.
Finally, another big financial barrier is that state governments have far less leeway than the federal government to increase budgetary spending. That means tax increases, which come with their own political challenges, are often necessary for states to secure the funding they need.”
“All of this creates a daunting picture for statewide single-payer health care.”