Want to Regain the American People’s Trust? Give Us Medicare for All

In spite of a media black-out, Medicare for All is supported by a majority of Americans. Here’s how it could transform politics—and our society.

$300 billion over 10 years. That’s how much the wealthy stand to gain if the House version of TrumpCare becomes law, according to The New York Times.

Nearly everyone else stands to lose. Middle-aged and older workers will likely see a spike in premiums. People with chronic ailments or disabilities, people seeking recovery from addiction or treatment for mental illness could find themselves without insurance, or with unaffordable premiums.

This is the Republican Party at its most callous—ready to consign people to sickness, or even death, in exchange for a big tax break for the most wealthy.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 7.28.18 PMBut the Democratic Party establishment doesn’t come across too well in the health care debate, either. Republicans are correct that ObamaCare was flawed.

The Democratic Party needs to do better if it wants to re-energize voters and heal the rift created by the 2016 defeat; it needs to advocate for solid and courageous policies, like Medicare for All, that assure health care access for everyone.

A compromised history

Beginning when Hillary Clinton led efforts at health care reform under Bill Clinton’s administration, the Democratic Party has prioritized the interests of for-profit health insurance companies over universal and affordable health care.

Under President Obama, leading Democrats continued that legacy. Early in Obama’s term, Senator Max Baucus of Montana convened round tables to set the stage for health care reform, but excluded advocates of one of the most popular policies in the United States: single-payer health care. When those advocates showed up anyway, they were arrested. And the corporate media gave this incident, and the policy they supported, almost no attention at all.

According to a recent article by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, the corporate media has reported vigorously on opponents of Obama’s and Trump’s health care policies—but only on those from the right and the extreme right. Single-payer health care—or Medicare for All—is not extreme. It’s the law of the land in most of the “developed” world. And yet the corporate media won’t cover it.

Nonetheless, 58 percent of Americans support Medicare for All, including 41 percent of Republicans, according to Gallup poll numbers. More than half of those who favored repeal of Obamacare supported replacing it—not by taking coverage from 24 million more people as an earlier version of the House bill would do, but by adopting single-payer health care.

The Democratic Party needs to find its soul and its backbone.

This much support shouldn’t be a surprise. Americans recognize the expense of supporting an insurance industry built on multi-million-dollar executive pay packages, lavish Wall Street profits, and the complex bureaucracy needed to administer multiple plans, exceptions, and exclusions. Americans spend $361 billion, or 14 percent of our health care expenditures, on administration alone.

Even under the Affordable Care Act, out-of-pocket costs are high for many people who get injured or sick. Medical bills are a leading causes of bankruptcy, even for those who carry insurance.

Many candidates of both parties rely on campaign contributions from powerful health insurance companies. But propping up a failing corporate health insurance system is a losing strategy for the nation as a whole—and for the Democratic Party, in particular, trying to win back the allegiance of millions of disillusioned voters.

The Democratic Party needs to find its soul and its backbone. Instead of celebrating when Republicans fail, it’s time to work for a real win for the American people.

Consider what that would look like. Instead of punishing people who don’t have insurance (as both ObamaCare and TrumpCare do), everyone would simply be covered. The costs would be paid via taxes, and, with progressive taxation, this approach would help combat toxic inequality. (As British epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson has shown, lowering inequality would, on its own, make us healthier!) People could continue choosing health care providers. Secure access to health care would make it easier to start a new business, or stay home to care for family members, or invest in an education. We would see greater freedom for individuals and greater investments in human capital.

Most importantly, no one in our country would have to remain sick, or even die, for lack of access to health care.

This is a pivotal moment for our country. A health care system that treats corporate profits as a given, but access to health care as provisional, moves us even further toward a society driven by fear and scarcity. Trump and his crowd feed on that fear to divide us.

A political party that rejects pro-corporate policies that impoverish our country, that fights for health care for all, that puts people first—that’s a party that could electrify the nation and take back our country in 2018 and beyond.


Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Sarah is a co-founder and columnist at YES! Her new book, “The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America” is available now. Get the new discussion guide for the book here, and follow her on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

2 thoughts on “Want to Regain the American People’s Trust? Give Us Medicare for All

  1. Thirty one per cent of US health spending goes to paper work (S. Woolhandler et al. N Engl J Med 2003; 349: 768-75). The Center for American Progress white paper linked in the blog post accurately estimates that the cost of heath care administration in the United States is about twice the cost in Canada as a percentage of health spending. But, the think tank, founded and headed at the time of the study by John Podesta the former chief of staff of the Clinton White House and the head of Obama’s 2008 transition team, leaves out half of the story in its estimate of the cost of health care administration: the paperwork imposed on nurses, doctors, and hospitals by our fragmented health insurance system. When we include the full cost of health care administration, the United States spends more than double what the think tank estimates and can save roughly ten times as much on paperwork costs within a Medicare-for-All system as the think tank argues we can save in the best case under the Affordable Care Act.

    Interestingly, the think tank paper does cite Department of Labor Statistics showing that hospitals and health clinics are now one of the largest employers of billing clerks and administrative staff in the country. It also links to a study on a different topic by Stephanie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, the authors of the main study of the cost of health care administration in the United States and Canada. Perhaps most telling, when the Center for American Progress released this white paper, they were able to get the chief lobbyist of the for profit health insurance companies Karen Ignani to join the panel discussion.

    The insurance companies, their lobbyists, and their former and future executives generally do not encourage open, fact based, and trust-worthy hearings on the US health insurance system. For example, the chief staffer on the senate committee holding the hearings where the physicians advocating Medicare-for-all were arrested worked as an executive for a large health insurer before and after staffing this key committee. She was the principal writer of the Affordable Care Act and played a key role in choosing who was invited to speak at the committee hearings.


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