By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Some congressional Democrats, emboldened by their takeover of the House, wasted no time in saying that one of their first acts in the new Congress would be to put a Medicare for all plan on the agenda of the next Congress.
Their plan is a near carbon copy of one long advocated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The plan almost certainly will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, but the setback almost certainly will be only temporary.
The tide has turned among the general public. Most Americans back some sort of a single-payer health plan. A Reuters-Ipsos poll last summer confirmed that. It found that 70 percent of Americans back some version of a universal health plan. That includes a majority of Republicans who support broad coverage.
As always when this issue comes up, the devil is in the details. Republican senators, the health care industry and insurers will fight it tooth and nail.
They say Medicare for all is too costly, too wasteful and will further tax to the breaking point hospitals and medical services. Conservatives don’t want it for another reason. They say it would be tantamount to socialized medicine, which goes hard against the grain of market rule in medical care.
It’s a repeat of the arguments the Republicans repeatedly use to try and torpedo the Affordable Care Act. President Donald Trump and the GOP partly got their way in gutting a part of the act when Congress scraped the financial penalties imposed on those who did not purchase insurance.
That was a body blow to the act, but it didn’t kill it. Now the political battle will be over Medicare expansion.
It’s a battle though that must be fought for the same reason that the battle to pass the Affordable Care Act had to be fought. The expansion will benefit millions of poor and uninsured Americans.
Obamacare is the proof of that. It has been an unmitigated success for millions of uninsured in America. The checklist of pluses is well known.
More than 7 million Americans now have access to a health plan, there are subsidies for low-income persons to offset the costs, a half million children are now covered under their parent’s plans, millions of dollars have been allocated for research and testing.
More than 1,000 new health care facilities in many rural and urban communities have been established, the National Health Service Corps workforce has been ramped up, and several million elderly and disabled Americans are now covered under Medicare and have no-cost access to health care preventive services. The success of the Affordable Care Act is even greater because of the grim figures on the health care crisis that has been a national disgrace for so long for low-income persons in America.
Before the passage of Obamacare, an estimated 50 million Americans had absolutely no access to affordable or any health care. That had devastating health and public policy consequences.
According to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the uninsured poor were far more likely than whites to suffer higher rates of catastrophic illness and disease, and were much less likely to obtain basic drugs, tests, preventive screenings and surgeries. They were more likely to recover slower from illness, and they died much younger.
Meanwhile, private insurers routinely cherry picked the healthiest and most financially secure patients in order to bloat profits and hold down costs. American medical providers spend twice as much per patient than providers in countries with universal health care and they provided lower quality for the grossly inflated dollars. Patients paid more in higher insurance premiums, co-payments, fees and other hidden health costs.
It was a perfect storm mix of politics, race and ignorance and fear that drove the Republican’s mania to dump Obamacare. It included every slander, lie and false flag, countless votes and threats to defund the act and a crude attempt at blackmail to shut down the whole government over it.
Health care reform opponents and the health care industry lobby, which includes private insurers and for a time pharmaceuticals and major medical practitioners, claimed they would have to treat millions of uninsured, unprofitable, largely unhealthy individuals. That would be a direct threat to their massive profits.
The difference, though, in the coming fight over Medicare for all is that millions of Americans have seen the benefits of Obamacare and embrace it. More states, and that includes a few red states, have opted for the expansion of Medicaid.
Medicare expansion must be paid for, though. That will entail a bump in taxes. That is what the Republicans have seized on it to kill the expansion proposal. However, that tax hike would be more than offset by the savings from lower overall health care spending that Medicare for all would mean.
The battle will be long, hard and fierce for Medicare for all. But the fight will be well worth it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Who Can Beat Trump?” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.