“Medicare For All,” which Sen. Bernie Sanders championed in his 2016 presidential bid, has become one of the most potent issues on the campaign trail this year.
Several candidates running in the mid-term congressional elections have won their Democratic primaries partly because of their support for a single-payer health-care system. National polls indicate that an increasing number of voters believe it is time to ensure that every American has access to affordable medical services. The issue has become popular in many Republican-leaning states, as well as in Democratic strongholds.
Some establishment Democrats who oppose Medicare For All have lost their primaries. In Nebraska, single-payer advocate Kara Eastman defeated a House candidate endorsed by the Democratic National Committee. Axios noted that the same thing happened in two primary contests in Pennsylvania, where Medicare For All backers Scott Wallace and Susan Wild won.
In Texas, Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz Jones is touting the issue in her attempt to beat incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd. Medicare For All supporters in Minnesota, New Jersey, Iowa, New York, Maine, and Washington are also competing for House seats.
The candidates are riding a grassroots wave that continues to grow. “What astounds me is we already have a pretty good majority of the American people who already believe in universal health care; believe that it is the government's responsibility to make sure that health care is a right,” Sanders said. “Five years ago, could you have believed that half of Americans would agree we need a single-payer health-care system?”
The independent Vermont senator was referring to a recent survey in which 51 percent of respondents said they favored a government-run, single-payer program that provides health insurance to everyone. Among Democrats, the level of support was 74 percent.
In a previous poll, released last September, 49 percent of all respondents and two-thirds of Democrats told Politico and Morning Consult that they wanted “a single-payer health-care system.” Another survey, conducted in July 2017, showed that 53 percent were “somewhat” or “strongly” in favor of such a plan.
“When people see the justice of an idea, it spreads like wildfire,” Sanders tweeted. The lawmaker, a self-described democratic socialist, is seeing a surge of public support for many of his previously controversial issue positions.
Doctors, nurses, corporate executives and others are rallying to the Medicare For All cause. The widespread activism has helped encourage more congressional Democrats to get on board with single-payer legislation that Sanders introduced last fall. Some politicians are pointing out that the nation's current approach to health care fails to cover millions of people, even though it is the most expensive system in the world.
Common Dreams reported that, according to the public-health school at Harvard University, the United States spends twice as much on health care as the United Kingdom, France, Japan or Canada. Part of the reason for the disparity is that U.S. doctors and pharmaceutical companies rake in far more money than those in the other countries. The average American doctor earns about $218,000 annually, compared with salaries ranging from $86,000 to $154,000 elsewhere. A typical U.S. patient pays between $500 and $900 more per year for prescription medications than the residents of 10 other nations that the Harvard school analyzed.
Some of the countries have single-payer systems, while at least two (Switzerland and the Netherlands) provide government subsidies to help their people afford health care. “Only the United States has a voluntary, private, employer-based and individual-based system,” the researchers wrote. “The majority of the countries do not have private insurance as the primary form of insurance.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, one of the study's authors, explained to the Guardian: “Most countries get to lower prices one of two ways. They either have a very strong price setter, usually a government agency; or more efficient markets. The U.S. has figured out how to do the worst of both.”
The American system's failure is evidenced by its life-expectancy rate, which is lower than each of the other 10 countries analyzed by the Harvard school. The United States also has the worst infant and maternal mortality statistics among those in the study.
The Annals of Internal Medicine, which reviewed a number of similar research projects, warned that lacking health insurance significantly increases the odds of premature death. The publication cited a 2002 study by the Institute of Medicine (now known as the National Academy of Medicine) which estimated that 18,000 Americans die prematurely every year because they do not have coverage.
Since then, other researchers have reached comparable conclusions. Studies found that health insurance lowers the risk of dying by at least 3 percent, and possibly as much as 29 percent. Those with coverage are far more likely to be diagnosed and treated for various dangerous conditions, including high blood pressure, that can lead to more serious health problems. Breast-cancer rates also are lower for people who have insurance.