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Fact check: Warren says out-of-pocket health spending will total $11 trillion in the next decade

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Promoting her much-discussed plan to create a single-payer "Medicare for All" health system, Sen. Elizabeth Warren emphasized a striking figure.

"If we make no changes over the next 10 years, Americans will reach into their pockets and pay out about $11 trillion on insurance premiums, copays, deductibles and uncovered medical expenses," the Democratic presidential candidate said in an Instagram video posted Monday.

The Democratic health care debate has been full of competing analyses and estimates about what Medicare for All might cost, what it might save and who would bear the brunt of paying for it. But this precise number was new to us.

If true, it would be a figure both staggering and significant to the unfolding debate, as Americans try to understand how Warren's brand of a single-payer health system could affect their pocketbooks. So we decided to dig in.

A REASONABLE ESTIMATE

We contacted the Warren campaign, which redirected us to a report from the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, as well as to federal estimates of household out-of-pocket expenses and premium costs over the next decade.

 

The Urban report doesn't include the $11 trillion figure. But economist Linda Blumberg, who authored the paper, told us the statistic is "perfectly consistent" with the analysis.

If anything, she said, the number is a lowball figure. When Blumberg and her team crunched the numbers, they found that, under the existing health care system, Americans can expect to pay $11.7 trillion between out-of-pocket costs -- the copays, deductibles and uncovered medical expenses -- and premiums over the next decade. That calculation comes from Urban's model for projecting what individual households might expect to spend, factoring in inflation, on these types of health costs.

"Talking about the amount of money we expect households to be spending over time is a very important part of trying to educate people on what single-payer would do, and what the tradeoffs are for them," said Blumberg, who previously advised the Clinton White House on health policy. On the numbers, "they're roughly in the right neighborhood," she added.

We consulted other analysts, too, and as far as we can tell, no one else has done a similar calculation.

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