Medicare for All or State Control: Health Care Plans Go to Extremes

The New York Times‘ Robert Pear (9/13/17) quoted the following people: Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-SC) and a representative of the major insurance lobby, American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), who capped off the article with a warning that “government-run healthcare won’t work.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill now has 16 cosponsors, up from zero when he introduced a similar bill in 2013. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, a record 120 of 194 Democrats are cosponsors of HR676, John Conyers’ single-payer legislation. In all, 136 of 242 Democrats in Congress are on record supporting the federal government assuming responsibility for the costs of healthcare.

Unable to continue ignoring the idea (, 3/6/09), corporate media have, with predictable uniformity, undermined it as utopian nonsense. The typical elite narrative since Sanders’ bill was announced in September has been to amplify the same kind of scare tactics that have been injected into the national discourse for decades by the for-profit health industry and right-wing think tanks.

Media, however, are now peddling a new and particularly dubious angle: equating single-payer with GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as similarly “extreme” alternatives. This is particularly disingenuous, given that a single-payer system, which would provide universal coverage, is supported by a slight majority of the public in recent polling (Quinnipiac, 7/27/17–8/1/17), while every recent GOP proposal would throw millions of Americans off insurance (Congressional Budget Office, 5/24/17, 6/26/17, 7/27/17) and is wildly unpopular (Washington Post, 6/30/17).

Consider the New York Times’ “Medicare for All or State Control: Healthcare Plans Go to Extremes” (9/13/17), which compares Sanders’ Medicare for All with the regressive “Cassidy/Graham” policy. Reporter Robert Pear’s premise is that Medicare for All is the left-wing “extreme,” the mirror image of the the GOP’s radical proposal to repeal the ACA.

On the one hand, you have a bill that establishes healthcare for all, which is a norm in the industrialized world (OECD, 7/22/16). On the other hand is yet another regressive version of Trumpcare (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 9/13/17), the Republican proposal to slash Medicaid and repeal requirements that protect patients with pre-existing conditions.

If these plans represent the ideological extremes, as the Times suggests, what would be a rational, non-extreme proposal? The status quo, which leaves us with 28 million uninsured, and the most expensive, wasteful system on the planet? Some minor tweaks to it? Pear doesn’t say.

Another piece about how “single-payer healthcare could trip up Democrats” (New York Times, 9/11/17) quotes former Obama administration appointee Andy Slavitt comparing single-payer to the GOP’s promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, saying it “could be the Democrats’ version of the thing that they promised to do for seven years and couldn’t do.”

The Times’ Paul Krugman—who was frequently dismissive of Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign (, 11/27/16)—also compared Sanders’ single-payer bill to the GOP’s health and tax proposals. In his column “Politicians, Promises and Getting Real” (9/15/17), he warned that Sanders’ bill could lead the Democrats to a “Trumpcare-type debacle.”

Krugman says he doesn’t “mean to suggest that these cases are comparable,” but this seems disingenuous, given that the article is structured around the very comparison he claims he is not making.

The tone of Washington Post coverage was clear in the giant headline “Healthcare for All, and Higher Taxes” on the Kindle version of the paper (9/13/17). The emphasis on higher taxes is telling; it is true that single-payer would require higher taxes. But studies (and the experience of other nations) show new taxes would be offset by dramatic administrative and out-of-pocket savings that would decrease overall spending (BMC Health Services, 11/14). If only the press chose to be so judgmental about past endeavors: Would “A War in Iraq, and Countless Corpses” have made it past editors when the paper helped enable that tragedy years ago (, 3/19/07)?

An op-ed in the Post by Catherine Rampell, headlined “Sanderscare Is All Cheap Politics and Magic Math” (9/14/17), argued the bill proves that the “lesson the Democrats seem to have taken from the 2016 electoral trouncing is that they need to become more like Republicans,” and described “single-payer” as a catchphrase no different from “repeal and replace.”

“Will Mexico pay for it?” she quips, comparing Sanders’ bill to Trump’s proposed border wall.

Michael Corcoran is a journalist based in Boston. He has written for the Boston Globe, The Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Extra!, NACLA Report on the Americas and other publications.