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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vanden Heuval: Time is Ripe for Medicare for All

In her Washington Post column “Time for Democrats to unite around Medicare for all,” Katrina vanden Heuval calls on progressives to press the case for universal health insurance:

As complicated as health care is, the case against Trump’s health-care bill is simple. Trump promised to provide “insurance for everybody”; the American Health Care Act passed by the House last month would cause 23 million Americans to lose their coverage. Trump promised not to cut Medicaid; the AHCA would slash more than $800 billion from the program. Trump promised to protect people with preexisting conditions; the AHCA would allow discrimination against such patients. As National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro put it, Republicans are essentially proposing “a 21st Century version of ‘Lord of the Flies.’

For Democrats, opposing Trump’s plan, which a measly 8 percent of Americans support in its current form, is a no-brainer. But with health care emerging as the American people’s top concern , according to recent polls, Democrats would be wise to seize the moment, go on the offensive and rally around a bold alternative to the Republican Party’s backward vision. It’s time for progressives and Democrats to unite behind Medicare for all.

Under a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system, the United States would join virtually every other Western country in recognizing health care as a fundamental right and providing insurance for every citizen. It would reduce the burden on employers, which bear the brunt of the cost of insurance today, and it would bring down overall health-care costs because Medicare is more efficient than for-profit private insurance…

Public opinion data indicate that majority support for such a system has arrived. As vanden Heuval writes,

Contrary to how it is often portrayed, this is not some left-wing fantasy but an idea with widespread across-the-aisle support. An April survey from the Economist/YouGov showed that 60 percent of Americans support “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American,” including a majority of independents and nearly half of self-identified Republicans. Likewise, a Gallup poll conducted last month found that a majority of Americans would like to see a single-payer system implemented. (Given how deeply Medicare is woven into the fabric of our society, I prefer the term “Medicare for all” over the wonky “single-payer.”)

The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, but far short of the broader health security that would be provided by a universal, single-payer, Medicare for all system. Americans are ready for serious health care reforms. But the Republicans have shown they can’t deliver it. Democrats now have a unique opportunity to lead the way forward.

Perhaps the best reason reason to energize a ‘Medicare for all’ movement is that it will literally save lives, help millions of Americans to heal more quickly and prevent a lot of unnecessay illnesses. Every day of delay exacts a heavy cost in lives lost and Americans staying sick longer than necessary. And toward what end — bigger profits for health insurance companies?

Health care is the central, progressive reform — the one that is most urgently-needed for a thriving democratic society. It’s the reform that can re-inspire the confidence of citizens in their government. It can also position the Democratic Party as the most credible choice for voters who believe we can do better.

Universal health security is a simple, easy to understand principle, and Medicare for all is the most credible way to get it. It is an easier sell than yet another set of ‘reforms’ in a for-profit system. Many who believe in economic competition and a strong private sector also understand that taking the profit motive out of our health insurance system is really the only way to cover everyone.

Some may argue that Medicare for all is a radical reform that will scare a lot of voters. Which voters? Not those who have no health insurance. Not those who are paying too much out-of-pocket for skimpy coverage. Not those who are fed up with the ever-increasing premiums of for-profit unsurance companies.

There is some legislation already pending, as vanden Heuval reports:

A bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) in the House has 112 co-sponsors, representing a solid majority of the Democratic caucus, up from just over 60 in the last Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made Medicare for all a central plank of his presidential campaign platform, is preparing to introduce a bill in the Senate. And last week, supporters of Medicare for all scored a big victory when the California Senate advanced a state-level single-payer bill that DeMoro hailed as a “moral model” for the country.

Yes, the Republicans have the votes to defeat a Medicare for all bill. But that’s not a good reason to campaign for something weaker. They are going to defeat anything Democrats propose, at least until the midterm elections. So why not use the opportunity to brand the Democrats as the party that has a serious proposal to cover everyone and build a movement for a healthier society?

Win or lose, a stronger Medicare for all campaign can educate millions of voters, help take the boogeyman out of the term “socialized medicine” and advance the day when everyone has health security, just like in other industrialized nations. It’s a much more appealing alternative than fighting for another ‘reform’ bill that leaves millions uncovered.

Some may say “yes, Medicare for all is the best goal, but we have to get there gradually.” The legislation should provide adequate time for health insurance companies to diversify assets and reallocate their resources. But ‘delay’ too often translates into ‘never,’ and America has been postponing a reckoning with our failed health care system for many decades.

For Democrats, the leadership challenge is clear. As civil rights leader Dorothy Height once put it, “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.”

3 comments on “Vanden Heuval: Time is Ripe for Medicare for All

  1. J.P. McJefferson on

    Not only is the Time is Ripe for Medicare for All, it is ripe for some Democratic leadership and communication on what the Party stands for. Rather than be the Party of “no”, Democrats have a unique opportunity to show the American public who they are. While the GOP Congress and Presidency are in disarray and depressing the public with constant turmoil, wouldn’t it nice to see some hard hitting ads showing that there are alternatives to this madness. E.G. Here’s the Democratic alternative to health care; infrastructure; education; trade; environment & climate change; international relations; tax reform; jobs; etc. Theme: There is a better way. Problem is, Democrats need to get their act together and start communicating what they stand for. There’s not much time before the next election and remember there’s a lot of “red” on that national map.

  2. Jack Olson on

    Vanden Heuval might prefer to call single-payer “Medicare for all” but it isn’t. Medicare is funded by a flat 3% payroll tax on all earned income while her single payer proposal would be funded by raising the income tax rates in the highest brackets. That doesn’t make single-payer a bad idea but if we want to sell it to the American voters let’s be accurate about how we would pay for it.


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