My last several posts have all had “Medicare for All” in the title. This makes one more. Maybe I am in a rut, or maybe it is simply the most important issue confronting health care in the US. Certainly there has been a lot written about it; just a review of very recent articles in the New York Times includes a wide variety. Conservative columnist David Brooks informs us that there is “no plausible route” to get to it, and we are told by Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz that there is “no precedent” for abolishing private insurance. The angst of the Democratic Party leadership in dealing with this newly-resurgent demand from its base is also discussed at length, with the Associated Press letting us know that it is a “divisive issue for Dems”. Robert Pear tells us about Nancy Pelosi’s plan to “expand health coverage” while being sure to not cover everyone. Of course, President Trump, not to be outdone (nobody outdoes the #Trumpenik!) has now announced his own plan, to completely gut and get rid of the Affordable Care Act and its expanded coverage. This is seen as a great gift to Pelosi, who needed something coming from way to her right, and now can “pivot hard” to fight to preserve ACA from the GOP rather than fighting with her own party’s progressives.
Of course, the Trump plan – get rid of Obamacare and then, well, don’t really have a plan after that, but it will be great – makes even a lot of Republicans nervous. Gail Collins has a particularly good time pointing this out, noting that
‘Republicans in Congress began desperately leaking the news that they had tried to talk their alleged leader out of the idea. The Democrats were almost swooning with joy. Really, Trump could not have made them happier if he’d announced that he planned to unveil a new tax cut called Help for The Greedy Rich.’
She also observes that the President has now moved from “who knew health care was so complicated?” to “I now understand health care especially very well”. Of course, he doesn’t – in fact, he understands it much less well than most policy makers, which isn’t very well at all, but he does understand how to both appeal to his base and please the wealthy folks who control the Republican Party, and indeed much of the Democratic Party.
It is frequently pointed out that many of the people who were most helped by the ACA, in particular its provisions that allow individuals to buy insurance at community rating, prevent discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, and expanded Medicaid, are those in Trump’s base, and that eliminating the program and leaving another 20 million people without insurance might backfire. Paul Krugman’s column “The Republicans really hate health care” is accurate, and makes this point; for example, that West Virginia was promised better health care and more coal jobs. It has gotten only a few coal jobs, but 140,000 people stand to lose health care coverage if ACA is repealed. It remains to be seen if this will translate into folks voting against him and his minions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Although, even the Wall St. Journal has had an op-ed by Robert Pollin advocating for Medicare for All.
So what is it with the Democrats? The concerns that are expressed by many centrist, leadership Democrats about Medicare for All, or Universal Health Care of any kind seem to be in three broad areas: 1) Is it a good thing to cover everyone? 2) What will be the price Americans pay for universal health care? 3) Is this a politically feasible possibility? It is important to recognize that the fact that these questions are being asked at all, and that there is a significant portion of the Democratic congressional delegation who support Medicare for All, and that there is huge support among the American people, is YUGE. It is a testimony to how important health care is to us, to the fact that most of us are not buying the GOP line, and to the success that Sen. Sanders had and continues to have in raising the issue and continuing to focus on it.
First, is it a good thing to cover everyone? Answer: Yes. Everyone needs access to health care, and those who need it the most are often those who are left out of current, past, and future schemes for coverage – mainly poor, or near poor, people. It might be ok to leave some people out if those advocating it, advocating incrementalism, would suggest that the appropriate people to be left of were themselves and people like themselves, or the wealthiest, who can afford to pay their own way. But no, it is always the most vulnerable. And, anyway, there is great advantage to everyone being in the same system; the wealthy and powerful will ensure that the system works for them, and if everyone is in it together, it is more likely to work for everyone. The Times has a recent article about Sen. Sanders saying “No to incrementalism”, which for some reason makes it sound like a bad thing. It is not. Certainly not if you and your family are being the ones left out by incrementalism!
Second, what will be the price? It will cost a lot to cover everyone. The numbers that even the sponsors of HR 1384, the Improved and Expanded Medicare for All bill whose primary sponsor is Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, have put forward are very large. The thing is, though, the numbers that we spend NOW, by insurers and the federal and local governments (via Medicare and Medicaid and covering all their employees), and out of our own pockets in premiums, deductibles, and co-pays are far larger! And, of course, all this money buys us neither adequate health care for lots of people who are underinsured or have insurers denying claims, or good health outcomes. The US has for decades trailed the developed world in almost all measures of population health outcomes, and led only (by far) on money spent, both in total and per capita. Much of this money can be characterized as “waste” in the sense that it does not deliver health care to anyone, but is spent on high administrative overheads and profits for insurers and providers and drug manufacturers.
Third, is it politically feasible? This is an issue with lots of components. One highlighted by several articles in the media, such as the above-mentioned ‘Abolish private insurance: no precedent’ in the Times, are the jobs that will be lost in the insurance industry. And, although it doesn’t say it, in the offices of hospital providers who have armies of workers to fight with the insurance workers about payment. An expensive zero-sum game, except it is the people who pay. Sure, these are real job losses, but when has it been right to continue a bloated, non-productive industry that screws the whole country to protect jobs? I think never, but this is just a smokescreen for protecting profits. And HR 1384 actually contains funding for job retraining. The bigger issue for Democrats is money, money from big donors, as described in another NY Times article, ‘Even Liberal Democrats Can’t Quit Wealthy Donors and Their Big Checks’, although Sanders and Warren are the exceptions. In essence, “politically feasible” is always the one put forward by those who do not want big change to try to head it.
But there is great momentum from, you know, regular people, now. We have to keep it up and demand it from our legislators and candidates, and that will make it feasible.