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WellPoint, Inc. (WLP), UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH): How Much Could Medicare for All Save You?

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The government put a key piece of Obamacare back on the shelf last week, when it announced that companies employing more than 50 workers will have an extra year to begin offering health insurance without facing fines.

Whether you consider this good news or bad news probably depends on whether you were a fan or a foe of the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

But could it be that the ACA isn’t really needed at all? Could an alternative idea — “Medicare for all” — actually do a better job of controlling medical costs, and making health care affordable for Americans?

Obamacare — but cheaper
A new survey released by the number-crunching technocrats at NerdWallet last month clearly illustrates how extending Medicare coverage to all Americans might cut costs for everyone. According to NerdWallet, Medicare generally pays out no more than $0.27 for every dollar that hospitals bill it for medical services — a savings of 73%. Put another way, an uninsured patient receiving the same care as is provided to a patient covered by Medicare can expect to pay nearly four times more.

And that’s just the average. Echoing the findings of a Time magazine report earlier this year, NW’s health care survey noted that the prices charged by various hospitals offering the same procedure can vary widely. As you can see in the far-right column of NW’s pricing chart, you could easily end up paying 30 to 40 times more for a stay at one hospital than at a hospital down the road, for the same treatment.

Obamacare… but more efficient
How does a 73 percent discount on medical bills compare to what’s promised under the ACA?

Well, under the current structure, Obamacare works as a plan to require patients to sign up for private health insurance plans. Yet according to Forbes, many of these private insurers offer their members discounts of as little as 20 percent off hospitals’ ordinary pricing.

One of the standouts, Blue Cross plans from, is sometimes able to negotiate discounts as large as 60 percent — still far short of the average discount of 73 percent at Medicare.

Obamacare… but better
Harvard Medical School visiting professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler recently noted on the pages of The New York Times that a Medicare-for-all health care system — known commonly as “single-payer” — is an incredibly efficient operation, costs-wise.

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