Ezra Klein is Wrong

by Ed Sawicki - January 19, 2016

Note: When this was written, the single-payer health care plan being discussed did not yet have a name. We know it now as Medicare For All.

Ezra Klein

On January 17, 2016, Ezra Klein, founder of, published an article called Bernie Sanders's single-payer plan isn't a plan at all that got my attention. It wasn't Klein's criticism of Sanders that bothered me as much as his conservative talking points that shocked me.

Here's the paragraph in Klein's article that is most troublesome:

“In general, I'm comfortable with higher taxes on the rich - though they've risen substantially in the Obama era already - but tax increases of the scale Sanders proposes here would begin to have real economic drawbacks. European countries tend to pay for their health-care systems through more broad-based, economically efficient taxes like VATs; Sanders's effort to fund a universal health-care system so heavily on the backs of the wealthy would be unprecedented.”

There's a lot to unpack here. So much deception in so few sentences. I'd say he's mistaken but I know he's a smart guy and knows better.

  1. Klein claims that taxes on the rich “have risen substantially in the Obama era already”. If he's talking about income taxes on wealthy individuals, he's being deceptive. During the George W. Bush administration, Congressional Republicans passed income tax cuts that expired in 10 years. After 10 years, the rates went back to the way they were—just as they were supposed to. This happened during the Obama administration. That's not raising taxes on the rich. It's restoring them to what they were before the GOP's ten-year gift to the wealthy.
  2. Klein thinks that higher income taxes on the wealthy will have economic drawbacks? Sounds like a Republican talking point. Klein is coming very close to endorsing trickle-down economics and suggesting that our massive social inequality must stand.
  3. Klein says that regressive taxes like VAT are “economically efficient”. Economically efficient for who? Not ordinary people.
  4. Klein thinks that single-payer health care plans are paid for on the backs of the wealthy? That doesn't need to be the case at all. A single-payer system that eliminates the high cost of private insurers can pay for itself. About 30 percent of all health care dollars go to the administrative costs and profits of private sector health insurance companies. Additionally, premiums, copays, and deductibles are constantly increasing. Premiums have been rising at rates greater than inflation for a long time. We don't have these high costs with MediCare and the VA health care system.

The Republican income tax cuts for the wealthy over the past 30+ years has created enormous social inequality and put pressure on all social programs, not just health care. We need to stop thinking of it as “increasing taxes on the wealthy” and understand it for what it is. It's restoring taxes to the way they were before Republicans gutted the public treasury.

Moving to a single-payer health care system will certainly cost less for those who already have private sector health insurance. The program easily pays for itself. The remaining question is will it also cover the millions of people who are currently uninsured? It may not, and that is why we may need to restore taxation for the wealthy.

Klein considers himself a liberal? Really? I won't be surprised if his next article recommends cuts to Social Security.


Vox: Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all   [cached copy]