‘Medicare for all’: Will it help or hurt Democrats in 2020?
Health care should be Democrats’ strongest issue heading into 2020, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times. Instead, it’s turning into an “unforced error” that could badly damage their chances of winning. The problem is “Medicare for all.” This snappy shorthand phrase for single-payer health care has caught the imagination of the party’s base, and polls very well—56 percent approval—with the general public. But as Sen. Kamala Harris found out last week, the devil’s in the details. Asked in a CNN town hall how the Medicare-for-all bill she’s co-sponsoring with Sen. Bernie Sanders would affect employer-provided private health insurance, Harris breezily confirmed that it would “eliminate all of that.” The “swift and negative” reaction was hardly a surprise, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. At least 150 million Americans, or more than half of the adult population, get private health insurance through their employers, and about 80 percent of them say they like their current coverage. When people learn that Medicare for all means abolishing private insurance, support plummets to 37 percent. After the backlash, Harris quickly walked back her remark, saying she might be open to a more incremental plan. This is undoubtedly “the first of many unpleasant encounters” between the Democrats’ signature campaign issue and “political reality.”
“‘Medicare for all’ is not a fantasy,” said Dean Baker in CNN.com. Many developed nations—including Canada, France, and Denmark—have successful single-payer systems. True, their taxes are higher, but people are no longer charged premiums, co-pays, or deductibles. Because of the efficiencies only possible under single-payer, these countries spend half as much per person on health care annually—about $5,000—as we do here, while enjoying longer life expectancies. After the epic struggle to pass and defend Obamacare, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com, nobody thinks Medicare for all is going to be easy. In fact, it will face enormous, well-financed opposition from the insurance industry, Big Pharma, and doctor and hospital groups. But that doesn’t mean “single-payer isn’t worth fighting for.” It’s a strategic way to move the ball down the field toward “genuinely universal health care.”
Not to be too dramatic, said Tiana Lowe in WashingtonExaminer.com, but compelling the U.S. to adopt socialized medicine “would kill people.” To be remotely affordable—even lowball estimates put the cost at $32.6 trillion over a decade—hospitals and physicians would have to accept reimbursement rates roughly 40 percent lower than today’s. This would create an “exodus” of physicians from the field, and deter bright young people from entering it—creating a serious physician shortage. Let’s not be too envious of our neighbor to the north, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. “More than a million Canadians are waiting for treatment at any given time.” Only 25 percent of U.S. citizens still favor Medicare for all when told it would mean longer wait times.
Americans don’t really care about “single-payer per se,” said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. What they want is “universal, affordable coverage that doesn’t leave them begging on GoFundMe for their kids’ insulin.” Heading into 2020, Democrats should simply pledge themselves to achieve that goal, whether it’s through Medicare for all or a more modest step, such as a “public option” to buy into Medicare and Medicaid that would co-exist with private insurance plans. Health care can still be a winning issue for Democrats, but they mustn’t “let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” ■