AP FACT CHECK: Single-payer sounds best when it sounds free

Americans are not clamoring for single-payer health care, as Sen. Bernie Sanders suggests they are, in proposing a plan that would have the government foot most medical bills.

He’s right that support for the idea has grown and in some polls tops 50 percent. But polls suggest that the prevailing sentiment is ambivalence.

Saving money on health insurance holds lots of appeal. Seeing taxes rise to cover those costs may dull the appetite.

Sanders’ plan, released Wednesday, would have the government finance coverage now paid for by a mix of employers, their workers, public plans and people in the individual insurance market. He’s not given details of the likely cost or how, exactly, he’d pay for it.

A look at the independent Vermont senator’s claims about the popularity of a government-financed system and how they compare with surveys of public opinion:

—”You mean because the people in this country want to move toward a Medicare-for-all system, that is divisive? I think in a democracy, we should be doing what the American people want.” — AP interview Tuesday, when asked about divisions in the Democratic Party over his idea.

—”Guaranteeing health care as a right is important to the American people not just from a moral and financial perspective; it also happens to be what the majority of the American people want.” — Opinion piece in The New York Times on Wednesday.


It takes a selective use of polling to make that case. Overall, public opinion research delivers decidedly mixed results.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports a “modest increase” in support for single-payer coverage in recent years, with “substantial” opposition. Perhaps most notably, public opinion is “malleable,” with support dropping when people are presented with arguments against it that are certain to emerge in the debate.

Kaiser’s tracking poll in July found 53 percent in favor of having all Americans get their health insurance from the government; 43 percent were against that. Opposition climbed to 60 percent when people were asked to consider that such a plan would call for higher taxes for many. A slight majority also swung against a single-payer plan when respondents were told that former President Barack Obama’s health care law would be replaced as a result.

Public opinion research also helps to explain why Sanders calls his plan “Medicare for all.” Labels matter. People tend to react more favorably to the notion of expanding the popular Medicare…

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