Progressive U.S. lawmakers are intensifying their fight for a universal health-care system. They are up against Republicans who control both houses of Congress, as well as a presidential administration that opposes any expansion of medical insurance coverage.
Democrats hope that campaigning on health care in this year's mid-term elections will help them seize the majority in the House of Representatives, and perhaps in the Senate. Possible candidates for the party's presidential nomination in 2020 such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California are embracing the issue.
Last Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal announced that she would co-chair a new House Medicare For All Caucus. “Health care cannot be a luxury that’s only available for the wealthy and well-connected,” the Washington Democrat declared. “It is a human right.”
The group's other leaders are Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Debbie Dingell of Michigan. Ellison recently introduced House Resolution 676, a call for universal coverage that has attracted 122 co-sponsors (two-thirds of the chamber's Democrats).
Physicians For a National Health Program and National Nurses United are among the organizations that have endorsed the legislation. “Every day, more Americans are rallying behind the need for fundamental reform of our flawed and fragmented health-care system that denies care to millions of our neighbors and family members,” said Deborah Burger, National Nurses United's president.
She added: “With polls showing increasing support for Medicare for All, and new signs every day of a system that is out of control, the formation of this congressional caucus could not be more timely. Nurses see patients every day who are harmed by a system in crisis, and we know that the solution is within our reach.”
While Republicans argue that universal coverage would be too expensive, Democrats point to the success of such systems in many countries around the world. They predict that a Medicare for All approach would save money in the long run.
President Trump and GOP congressional leaders have instead been focused on gutting the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. According to Sen. Bernie Sanders, that is one reason more Americans are supporting a single-payer plan.
“It gives people a sense of what is at stake when we make decisions about health care,” the Vermont independent told The Nation. I think that many people, even now, do not appreciate the impact that (rescinding Obamacare) would have on the country. When I talk about many thousands of people dying every single year, and massive amounts of suffering, that is the truth.”
Sanders said the GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare “is about not just the desire for tax breaks on the part of the rich; this is the fulfillment of the Koch brothers’ ideology to destroy virtually every government program."
He continued: “This is the beginning. If they are successful in destroying Medicaid, Medicare certainly will be next and Social Security not far behind that — and the Veterans Administration, as well. So this is part of a massive effort by the Koch brothers and other billionaires to take us back to the 1920s and to do away with virtually every major piece of legislation passed since the 1930s to meet the needs of our people.”
The senator recalled that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to create a “great” health-care system that would cover “everybody.” The candidate pledged to “take on the pharmaceutical industry” and negotiate lower prescription drug prices with Canadian companies.
“I think more and more people understand that it turned out to be an entire pack of lies. He never had any intention of doing that at all,” Sanders said. “People understand that Trump was not interested in providing health care to everybody. In fact, he is supporting efforts to throw 20 million people off health insurance.”
Sanders pointed out that proposals for a single-payer program “have been around for decades.” He explained: “The reason it has remained alive and continuously discussed is because it is a rational health-care system. It’s a health-care system designed to provide health care to all people as a right — and to do that in a cost-effective way.”
In recent national polls, more than 70 percent of Democrats voiced support for a universal program. Many consumer organizations, as well as progressive business groups, are joining activists in demanding coverage for everyone.
At Thursday's event announcing the formation of the House Medicare For All Caucus, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman told the crowd: “The problem is not a lack of solutions. We know what the solution is. The problem is the influence and power of the hospitals and the drug companies and the for-profit insurance companies. That's the problem. … Everybody agrees on this, except the vested interests that benefit from a rigged, flawed, cruel and immoral system.”