In this paper, CBO describes the methods it has developed to analyze the federal budgetary costs of proposals for single-payer health care systems that are based on the Medicare fee-for-service program. Five illustrative options show how differences in payment rates, cost sharing, and coverage of long-term services and supports under a single-payer system would affect the federal budget in 2030 and other outcomes. CBO’s projections of national health expenditures under current law are a key basis for the estimates.
CBO projects that federal subsidies for health care in 2030 would increase by amounts ranging from$1.5 trillion to $3.0 trillion under the illustrative single-payer options—compared with federal subsidies in 2030 projected under current law—raising the share of spending on health care financed by the federal government. National health expenditures in 2030 would change by amounts ranging from a decrease of $0.7 trillion to an increase of $0.3 trillion. Lower payment rates for providers and reductions in payers’ administrative spending are the largest factors contributing to the decrease. Increased use of care is the largest factor contributing to the increase.
Health insurance coverage would be nearly universal and out-of-pocket spending on healthcare would be lower—resulting in increased demand for health care—under the design specifications that CBO analyzed. The supply of health care would increase because of fewer restrictions on patients’ use of health care and on billing, less money and time spent by providers on administrative activities, and providers’ responses to increased demand. The amount of care used would rise, and in that sense, overall access to care would be greater. The increase in demand would exceed the increase in supply, resulting in greater unmet demand than the amount under current law, CBO projects.Those effects on overall access to care and unmet demand would occur simultaneously because people would use more care and would have used even more if it were supplied. The increase in unmet demand would correspond to increased congestion in the health care system—including delays and forgone care—particularly under scenarios with lower cost sharing and lower payment rates.