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Change, Cost and Compassion — Selling Medicare For All

By Brad Bannon

Republicans have been as quiet as church mice on healthcare reform since the latest version of what I call “Trump(Doesn’t)Care” crashed and burned in the Senate. President Trump will try to kill ObamaCare by executive fiat while the president’s addled allies in Congress bumble their way into their next half-baked scheme to produce tax cuts for the rich and misery for working families.

Democratic initiative trumps GOP inertia. No one could accuse Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of being asleep at the switch while Trump golfs and Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell enjoys his summer vacation. Sanders is using the summer congressional work session to work at building support for his universal health proposal, Medicare for All.

The GOP is great at killing laws but bad at giving birth to them. The late great Democratic Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, used to say, “A jackass can kick a barn down but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

A hidden winner in the battle between ObamaCare and TrumpCare has been Medicare for All. Since the bitter cage match between Affordable Care Act and the efforts to repeal and replace it erupted, support for universal healthcare has exploded.

Last March an Associated Press national survey indicated that there was roughly an even split (52 percent agree while 47 percent disagree) between Americans who believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide healthcare coverage to everyone and people who didn’t think the feds had that obligation.

In a new AP poll, support for universal coverage had increased so much there is now a large majority (62 percent to 37 percent) of Americans who believe the federal government has the responsibility to guarantee health insurance for all Americans.

Democrats would lose a great chance to fundamentally reform the broken healthcare system and the party’s establishment if we aren’t bold. Here are the best arguments progressives must make to provide Medicare for all.

First, the need for fundamental change. The healthcare system, like a lot of other systems in the United States, is a mess. Is it any wonder that only 1 in 4 (27 percent-Gallup Poll) Americans think the country is headed in the right direction?

Trump rode the wave of anger and hostility towards the status quo into the White House. But TrumpCare hurts the people who supported Trump. A bold remedy for fundamental change in the ailing healthcare system would help position the Democratic Party as the party of change and reform and help win back working families who jumped ship in 2016 to support the GOP presidential candidate.

The U.S. spends more money per capita for healthcare than any country in the world and gets little in return. Inflationary medical costs are jobs killers. Millions of Americans are in danger of bankruptcy to pay for medical care for serious injuries and infirmities. Meanwhile insurance companies are reaping enormous profits and their CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries.

The second argument for Medicare for All is the need to reduce costs. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. spending for healthcare in 2016 was $9,024 per person. The average spending for all developed nations was only $3,620.

According to OECD, the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by nine years since 1960. In Japan, life expectancy has risen by fifteen years. The average increase for developed nations is eleven. The mortality rate for American men without a high school education — the Trump base — has decreased.

The best way to lower healthcare costs is to take private insurance companies and their highly paid CEOs out of the equation. In 2015, Cigna CEO David Cordani made $49 million and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolino made nearly $28 million. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is responsible for Medicare, makes $199,700 per year.

Economist Thomas Frank recently pointed out in the New York Times that Medicare administrative costs are only 2 percent. Administrative costs for private insurance companies are about 6 times higher.

Lastly, there is the argument for compassion. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”

Even if ObamaCare survives, there still will be 26 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. If some version of TrumpCare replaces the Affordable Care Act, another 15 to 26 million people will join the ranks of the uninsured. Neither program adequately addresses the problems millions of other Americans have in paying rising premiums for coverage.

TrumpCare is hard hearted and mean spirited. Republicans didn’t plan to fail, they just failed to plan for a reasonable alternative to ACA for people who need coverage.

The GOP wants to cut Medicare. We should build on Medicare as a foundation to build a better system. The Sanders’ Medicare for All plan is the best way to fundamentally clean up the mess. We already have universal coverage for the seniors and the disabled. Even though Medicare is socialism for seniors, anytime the GOP tries to get rid of it, the effort crashes in flames.

Medicare is a popular program with a long track record of success. The Kaiser family Foundation asked Americans how they felt about giving all Americans access to Medicare and found that a large majority (57 percent to 38 percent) people favored the idea.

The blood feud between Republicans and Democrats over healthcare reform this year in Congress is just a skirmish; not the decisive battle in the health reform war. The path to real healthcare reform is a long and winding road that doesn’t end at the intersection of ObamaCare and TrumpCare.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (There is no relation to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon). He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com

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