Now that Republicans have failed at least for now to repeal the Affordable Care Act and deny millions of people medical care in order to benefit wealthy people, Democrats should adopt a two pronged approach to our health care system.
California needs to lead the way on this approach: (1) Shore up and expand the ACA in the short-term, perhaps with offering a public option in states that want it and (2) begin the arduous but eventually winnable effort to establish a single-payer, universal health-care system in this country or what is known for now as Medicare for all.
The ACA repeal effort fell apart on Tuesday when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the immoral proposal from consideration after he realized he didn’t have the votes to pass it. The proposal would have ended the ACA and cut Medicaid subsidies. It would have potentially allowed insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions much higher rates and cause millions of people to lose access to medical care.
The Republican plan was based in lies and distorted conjecture as are most Republican initiatives these days. It is not hyperbole to argue the plan was a death sentence for millions of Americans yet it inconceivably came within a vote or two of passing. Senate Democrats and Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine literally save lives with announcements that they would vote no on the proposal.
While the Republican health-care debacle took center stage, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, including 15 co-sponsors, introduced a Medicare for All bill that would guaranteed health care to all Americans. California’s own U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was one of those sponsors.
There is also a grassroots movement to establish a single-payer system in California, which would if successfully implemented dramatically change the national health care debate. A state bill that would create the system, Senate Bill 562, has passed the Senate but was stalled when Assembly Leader and Democrat Anthony Rendon tabled it for now, saying it was “woefully incomplete.”
Sanders spoke about his bill and California’s effort in San Francisco Friday. Both Healthy California and National Nurses United, two main organizations pushing for single payer in the state, have endorsed Sanders’ effort while continuing their state-wide push.
Momentum is growing for a health care system that eliminates insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays. The health insurance industry, which reaped $50 billion in profits last year, according to Sanders, exists to make money not to provide care. It’s a senseless, immoral industry designed to prevent people from getting care so it can make more money.
I’ve written in more detail in the past about SB 562. Obviously, the question is how would a single-payer system get funded, but the most important fact to remember is the staggering amount of money that would be pooled when insurance premiums are essentially shifted into the new system.
So far the national Democratic leadership has been lukewarm to the Medicare for All bill, versions of which have been discussed or submitted to Congress before. That’s both an immoral reticence and a huge political mistake. By shoring up the ACA, which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer support, it becomes apparent that single-payer, used by every other leading industrial country in the wold, is the answer. The two issues—single-payer and expanding the ACA—are symbiotic not binary. One does not negate the other.
The GOP—a political party now based on lies and crass emotional manipulation—has failed the American people. It gave us a demented, liar-in-chief obsessed with the inane and it has no workable ideas when it comes to health care. Democrats have a great opportunity right now to do the “right thing,” in the words of Harris, when it comes to health care. California should lead the way.