Many politicians, interest groups, and commentators contend that the COVID-19 pandemic shows that the United States desperately needs Medicare for All. They point out that COVID-19 exposed the fragility of employment‐based health insurance coverage. The economic shutdown and resulting job losses meant that many people lost their health insurance coverage when they needed it the most. The cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment compounded the problem by discouraging people from seeking medical care. Proponents believe that if Medicare for All had been in place when the pandemic hit, more people would have been tested, the spread of the disease would have been easier to track, and many lives would have been saved.
It is certainly true that the American health care system has no shortage of pathologies and needs a complete overhaul. But Medicare for All is not the reform it needs. Medicare for All would be vastly more expensive than predicted because special interests dominate the political process. It would also be wildly inefficient because it would increase losses from fraud, waste, and abuse by hundreds of billions of dollars. The question is whether the country’s experience with COVID-19 tips the scale in favor of Medicare for All by showing that universal coverage is needed despite its enormous downsides.
The answer is “no,” for several reasons. First, the pandemic strained the health care systems of many countries, including those with universal coverage of the sort envisioned by Medicare for All’s proponents. Given the universal nature of these challenges, it is implausible that Americans would have fared significantly better had Medicare for All been in place.