Medicare for all

August 26, 2017 

Recently we joined our friends and allies in cheering the defeat of Senate bills to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and deny health care to millions of Americans.

Throughout the torturous attempts of Senate Republicans to mutilate Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood and transfer close to a trillion dollars to the super-wealthy, two Republican women steadfastly voted their conscience. We commend Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for their refusal to be cowed by President Trump and their party’s leadership. But make no mistake, the victory for patients, caregivers and for the right to quality care was forged by those who called, marched, sat in and advocated for the human right to health care and by those in the health care community.

We must remain vigilant because the administration and its congressional allies will undoubtedly continue their assault on the ACA. The attacks will most likely focus on the troubled subsidized individual health insurance market, although the problems with these profit-driven markets predate the ACA.

The Medicaid expansion, on the other hand, is a resounding success. The more than 20 million previously uninsured who gained coverage under the ACA have no interest in giving it up, nor should they. But rather than reduce the number of uninsured, as the GOP defeated bills would have done, we need to dramatically increase coverage and continue our march toward universal health care.

And that is what the people of our country want. A recent Gallup Poll found that 73 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of all Americans favor a federal funded health care program that would include all Americans. A recent Pew report found that 60 percent of all Americans favored a federally guaranteed health care system. Such a program would put us in step with the rest of the industrialized world. Today, we are the only industrialized nation without universal health care.

And here, in the world’s wealthiest and most technologically developed country, Americans pay far more than most advanced countries for health care. Other governments are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with providers, and there are no insurance companies adding additional costs. The administrative costs for Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors and some disabled persons, is between 1 percent and 5 percent. The costs for those with private insurance is 18 percent. And as for health outcomes, the United States, despite its wealth and vast medical resources, ranks a shameful 26th in the world in life expectancy.

Supporting Medicare for all are scores of medical, national, faith-based, state and local organizations. Former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore also have declared support. A number of states have introduced single-payer plans. In May, a single-payer bill passed the New York State Assembly for the fourth time, but it stalled one vote shy of passage in the Senate.

Now, single payer is inching its way into the Democratic Party’s mainstream. For the first time, a majority of House Democrats have signed on to a “Medicare for all” legislation. The bill, HR676, was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime proponent of single payer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is introducing a companion bill in the Senate. The bill has the support of Democratic senatiors such as Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Given the makeup of the current Congress, passage of single payer is unlikely this year, but it is not too early to build a movement that can move the measure closer to passage in the next Congress.

So, while we continue to defend the ACA, it is also time to go on the offense. The only viable path to health care for all builds on—not destroys—the ACA by increasing access, improving benefits and controlling costs. Medicare for all achieves all three. As progressives put our heads together, share resources and continue to march together, we can hammer out the details of a winnable single payer plan and quality care for all. It’s past time to stop putting the profits of the few over the needs of the many.

George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union in New York and the largest health care union in the nation.


3 Responses to “Medicare for all”

  1. rebecca spoon on August 26th, 2017 3:58 pm

    Yes ACA covered more people. That is a good thing. But it covered them by expanding the most horribly broken part of our horribly broken status quo. That is a bad thing. By design it left 30 MILLION people still completely uninsured (unbelievable) plus tens of millions more dangerously and unreliably under insured (indefensibly amoral). Those are two more really (really) bad things. ACA legally discriminates against us based on the color of our coverage (if we are bronze, platinum or one of our 30 MILLION invisible uninsured). That is another really bad thing. ACA forces everyone to have to subsidize and purchase defective over-priced products sold by private health unsurance corporations that are indefensibly amoral, cruel, inhumane, perverse and contrary to the good of our whole. That is a horrible thing. ACA is the precise OPPOSITE of what we need and the direction we need to start heading: towards one not-for-profit public plan that protects everyone’s lives equally under the law of our land (from the president on down). A bigger badder lie than ACA has never been more successfully told. You can fool some of the people some of the time but “the truth will out” anyway eventually. The only question is how many more innocent lives will have to be devastated and how many more of our valuable healthcare dollars will have to be wasted until it finally does?

  2. rebecca spoon on August 26th, 2017 4:02 pm

    The more support that ACA gets, the lower our chances for honest healthcare reform. People who think they are progressive are being played like fiddles for fools by Obamacare because in reality it is nothing more than the horribly regressive, pro-corporate-welfare, former Republican plan (until Obama and Democrats passed it without a single Republican vote).

  3. rebecca spoon on August 26th, 2017 4:16 pm

    ACA expanded access. The 20 million who got coverage have been left as (mostly bronze) individuals at the mercy of private health unsurance corporations that have NO mercy. The rest have reliable coverage but only is they remain trapped in poverty to get it. Some plan. It did not improve coverage. 80-20 used to be considered “standard” coverage but now it’s “gold”. 60-40 used to be considered total garbage coverage but now it’s “bronze” (and the new standard). 30 MILLION people are still invisibly and completely uninsured…which is morally indefensible. Private health unsurance corporations are still in charge, which is both morally and fiscally insane. If anyone thinks ACA did anything to control costs, they have some fact checking of reality that needs to be done. STOP DEFENDING ACA. Based on evidence and facts, it is a strategic, moral and fiscal mistake to do so. The concept of people gaining real coverage instead of fake corporate coverage provided by proven scorpions and/or coverage that forces them to remain deeply poverty stricken (what ACA does)…is worth defending. But that’s supporting the OPPOSITE of the model upon which ACA is based.