Earlier this week, we brought you the story of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ proposed federal budget. His proposal would include an additional $18 trillion beyond current spending levels over the next decade, representing an increase of approximately 33%.  The lion’s share of that increase – $15 trillion – would go toward an expansion of Medicare to include all Americans, “from womb to tomb.”

Significantly, all that fiscal conservatives see is the price tag. That seemingly high figure has even drawn criticism from Democrats, who repeat the same old adage: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch – somebody has to pay for it.” Indeed, someone will. However, those fiscal conservatives who are up in arms over the issue need to get over their “sticker shock” and look past the price tag…because, in the long run, guaranteed, universal health care will actually save US taxpayers trillions of dollars.

The Medicare Expansion is not a new proposal. HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All  Act , was first introduced by Representative John Conyers, Jr. in 2013. If enacted into law, the bill would save taxpayers as much as $592 billion a year by eliminating waste and excessive overhead incurred by private insurance companies and reducing the prices of prescription drugs to levels comparable to those in European countries. As of 2014, those savings would have been sufficient to provide full coverage for all uninsured Americans while improving health care delivery and services for everyone.

A companion bill, S. 1782,  the American Health Security Act, was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders that same year.  In the text of the bill, it was pointed out that:

Small businesses around the country cannot afford to reinvest in their companies and create new jobs because their health care bills are going up 10 or 15 percent every year…[and] American businesses are at an economic disadvantage, because their health care costs are so much higher than in other countries. Notably, automobile manufacturers spend more on health care per automobile than on steel.

Both bills call for new and increased taxes on wealthy individuals – while at the same time, removing the “profit motive” from health care. Furthermore, businesses would no longer have the burden of providing health care benefits for their employees. This would enable companies to use the savings in order to expand and improve facilities and raise wages and salaries. That extra money in employees’ pockets every month means more money circulating in the general economy, going toward things such as groceries, consumer goods and local services – as opposed to winding up in shareholders’ investment accounts and inflated CEO paychecks.

At this point, we have not even factored in the economic costs to society, such as preventable illnesses that go untreated and bankruptcies filed over excessive medical debt.

Already, 21 states that have refused to expand the federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act are finding out just how expensive our current, dysfunctional health care “system” is. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the costs to provide health care for the uninsured in those states could be as much as $266 billion over the next nine years. Texas hospitals alone spent $5.5 billion on uncompensated care in 2014.  Not only does the Lone Star State have the highest number of uninsured people in the country, the state legislature’s refusal to expand the program has created a substantial tax burden for Texans, who must pick up the slack.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.