Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” plan has gained traction among some mainstream Democrats, including possible presidential contenders such as Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. And buried in the details of some recent analyses is an intriguing notion: American businesses, now the biggest source of health care coverage in the United States, could completely exit the business of providing health care, if national or even statewide single-payer coverage ever takes root. That could make American firms more competitive globally and leave a lot more money for employee raises and other benefits.
The United States is the only advanced economy where employers are the primary source of health care. Famed investor Warren Buffett has called employer-provided health care the “tapeworm of American competitiveness,” because it forces American firms to bear a costly bureaucratic burden their foreign competitors don’t have to deal with. As health care costs have soared during the last three decades, employers have set aside more and more for benefits, leaving less for raises. In theory, there are reasons for the business community to support a single-payer system that would relieve them of an onerous obligation completely unrelated to most companies’ business models.