Whether hospitals would be able to adapt to sharply lower payments is unclear.
“It would force health care systems to go on a very serious diet,” said Stuart Altman, a health policy professor at Brandeis University. “I have no idea what would happen. Nor does anyone else.”
But proponents should not expect to save as much money as they hope if they cut hospital payments. Some hospitals could replace their missing revenue by charging more for the same care or by ordering more billable tests and procedures, said Dr. Stephen Klasko, the chief executive of Jefferson Health. “You’d be amazed,’ he said.
While both the Medicare-for-all bill introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, and the Sanders bill call for a government-run insurance program, the Jayapal proposal would replace existing Medicare payments with a whole new system of regional budgets.
“We need to change not just who pays the bill but how we pay the bill,” said Dr. Gaffney, who advised Ms. Jayapal on her proposal.
Hospitals would be able to achieve substantial savings by scaling back administrative costs, the byproduct of a system that deals with multiple insurance carriers, Dr. Gaffney said. Under the Jayapal bill, hospitals would no longer be paid above their costs, and the money for new equipment and other investments would come from a separate pool of money.
But the Sanders bill, which is supported by some Democratic presidential candidates including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, does not envision a whole new payment system but an expansion of the existing Medicare program. Payments would largely be based on what Medicare currently pays hospitals.
Some Democrats have also proposed more incremental plans. Some would expand Medicare to cover people over the age of 50, while others wouldn’t do away with private health insurers, including those that now offer Medicare plans.