Medicare for All would give most U.S. workers “the biggest take-home pay raise in a generation,” two economists from the University of California, Berkeley said Friday, countering one of the main insurance industry talking points against single-payer.

In an op-ed for The Guardian, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman directly challenged the claim that Medicare for All would “involve massive tax increases for the middle class,” an attack line centrist Democratic presidential candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have recently deployed against the popular proposal.

“In other words, the Dems saying Medicare for All is a middle class tax hike are deliberately lying.”
—David Sirota, speechwriter for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign

“Supporters of Medicare for All are right,” said Saez and Zucman, leading experts on income and wealth inequality. “Funding universal health insurance through taxes would lead to a large tax cut for the vast majority of workers.”

The two economists argued that health insurance premiums are effectively taxes taken out of workers’ paychecks and paid to for-profit insurance companies instead of the government.

“Insurance premiums are the most regressive possible type of tax: a poll tax. The secretary pays the same amount as the executive,” Saez and Zucman wrote. “Proposals such as Medicare for All would replace the current privatized poll tax by taxes based on ability to pay. Some believe that it would result in a big tax increase for America’s middle class.”

But the Medicare for All legislation authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “would, in fact, lead to large income gains for the vast majority of workers” by eliminating private health insurance premiums, Saez and Zucman said.

The economists offered an example:

“With smart new taxes—such as broad income taxes exempting low wages and retirees—it is possible to make the vast majority of the population win from a transition to universal health insurance,” said Saez and Zucman.

The Sanders presidential campaign quickly seized upon the Saez and Zucman op-ed to bolster the argument that 2020 Democrats attacking Medicare for All as a tax hike on the middle class are being dishonest.