To Regain People’s Trust, the Democratic Party Must Support Single-Payer

Nearly 60 percent of Americans want Medicare for All. Democrats must support it, too.
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Medical bills are a leading causes of bankruptcy, even for those who carry insurance.

Photo by shapecharge / iStock.

$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.

But 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.