Bernie Sanders with nurses during a July rally on the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal tried to scare voters this week when it reported that the progressive federal budget proposals of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would cost the United States $18 trillion over 10 years.

But readers shouldn’t be frightened. An author of the study cited by the Journal says the programs would in fact cost far less than what the country would spend without them.

“It’s not hard to understand why,” writes Joshua Holland at The Nation. “The lion’s share of the ‘cost’—$15 trillion—would pay for opening up Medicare to Americans of all ages”:

Rather than cost us more as a society, this proposal would only shift spending from businesses and households to the federal government by replacing our current patchwork system of public and private insurance with a single, more efficient system of financing.

But it wouldn’t be a dollar-for-dollar transfer from the private to the public sector. According to Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who authored the analysis cited by the Journal, that transition would reduce American healthcare costs by almost $10 trillion over 10 years through economies of scale, better control of pharmaceutical costs, and savings on administrative bloat.

Friedman also projects that, as every American got coverage, we’d spend close to $5 trillion more on actual healthcare services. So we would get more healthcare and still end up saving around $5 billion on net. In other words, Sanders’s Medicare expansion would cost $15 trillion, but without it American businesses and taxpayers would spend $20 trillion over the same period, while still leaving millions uninsured.

This shows just how badly we get ripped off under our current system. And as Friedman writes at the Huffington Post, “The economic benefits from Senator Sander’s [sic] proposal would be even greater than these static estimates,” because they don’t factor in “the productivity boost coming from a more efficient health care system and a healthier population.”

The $5 trillion the country would save on health care costs, Holland continues, “would more than cover the costs of the rest of Sanders’s agenda” — providing tuition-free education at public universities, expanding Social Security benefits, bolstering private pensions, repairing aging infrastructure and supporting paid family leave. And if the study cited by the Journal is correct, the public — via the federal government — would have $2 trillion left over to spend on whatever it wants, including the favorite conservative cause of cutting federal deficits.

“[T]his isn’t really about costs,” Holland concludes, “because the government is more efficient than private enterprise in providing social insurance and higher education.” And if Sanders could demonstrate that by enacting his proposals, “it would pose an existential threat to the conservative project to convince Americans that their tax dollars don’t buy much—that government is all about bloat and corruption and giving their hard-earned dollars to the undeserving poor.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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