The entire country got riled up on Wednesday, September 13 as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a Medicare-For-All Act supported by the public and co-sponsored, at the time, by 16 Democrats. This is a big shift for Democrats, although their leadership have not come along for the ride.
Neither Sen. Chuck Schumer, nor Nancy Pelosi have supported the bill and one talking-point that former-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton caught flack for was the comment that single-payer healthcare will “never, ever come to pass”.
The activism of Dr. Margaret Flowers has forced politicians and lobbyists cozy with the healthcare industry into uncomfortable corners over the years, although up until now these single payer bills have not caught momentum.
“HR 676, which is the bill in the house that John Conyers has introduced every session since 2003 is what we really consider to be our gold standard,” said Dr. Flowers, who has advocated for healthcare as a human right, not a commodity, since 2000.
Dr. Flowers is the director of the Health Over Profit for Everyone (HOPE) campaign and the co-director of Popular Resistance. She is a former Pediatrician who practiced medicine for 17 years before retiring to focus on community organizing.
In practice, if the bill were passed, it would fundamentally change Americans’ interactions with the healthcare system. It would create national health insurance, a Universal Medicare Program. This would include everyone from prenatal care to death. Americans would pay into the system with a progressive tax. When they need care they could obtain it without bankruptcy or opportunity-cost concerns. There would still be private insurance for cosmetic issues that the system would not cover, but nobody would lack proper care for serious health issues.
“It would greatly simplify the system for patients and health professionals, give us greater power to influence how the system works and provide everyone with the security that when they need care, they will get it. We’ll be able to negotiate fairer prices for pharmaceuticals and health services and control healthcare spending in the US. There won’t be any more bankruptcies due to medical costs. It will be a system that is focused on improving health for everyone rather than making profits for a few,” she said.
This is the first year that Sen. Sanders has introduced a bill this similar to HR 676. This year has also seen a record number of House Representatives, 117, co-sponsor Conyers’ bill. This is a positive development in government responsiveness. It follows months of direct action and advocacy campaigns opposing the attempted Obamacare repeal.
According to current Pew Research polling 60 percent of Americans believe “the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans.”
Thirty-three percent of Americans favor a single-payer approach to health insurance, and support has risen 12 points since 2014.
Regarding the economics of single-payer Dr. Flowers said, “Numerous studies, our experience with our own single payer systems in the US and results abroad show that a single payer system is the best way to provide universal coverage, control health care costs and save money. What we see in other countries is that there will be some increased costs up front to get the system started and then over time the rise of healthcare spending will slow.”
By, “Our own single payer systems in the US”, Dr Flowers is referring to Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration. They are systems in which the government pays, mostly private, healthcare providers for the care of its patrons. This contrasts a Socialist model of universal healthcare where the government owns the hospitals and pays the doctors.
The US pays twice as much per capita on healthcare than other industrialized nations. A lot of the savings of switching to a Medicare-For-All model would come from administrative costs, which are estimated to have $500 billion in potential savings, and from reduced prices for goods and services.
Other benefits would come from improved health outcomes as people visit their doctors more often. Dr. Flowers said, “We will also be able to focus on preventative care and management of chronic diseases, which improve health and can save money. It costs much less to manage a patient’s high blood pressure than to care for the consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure such as kidney failure or a stroke.”
Sen. Sanders’ bill now has 17 co-sponsors including two Senators who were caught up in controversy in January for voting against an amendment for affordable prescription drugs. They are Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Other high-profile co-sponsors are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (D.-Calif.).
“The Democratic voting base strongly supports National Improved Medicare for All and has pushed for it to be included in the national platform, but the Democratic Party has always voted against that,” said Dr. Flowers discussing why so many Democrats have decided to back the bill. The DNC have lost a lot of elections in the last ten years and their fundraising numbers are down.
She said, “I believe that with the losses the Democrats have had and the very vocal pushes from the base to promote single payer, the Democrats recognize that they need to support National Improved Medicare for All in order to maintain viability as a party.” Her opinion, however, is not without cynicism. As, she argued, supporting this bill while the Republicans are in power is a low-risk move, it is not likely to pass and offend their pharmaceutical industry donors.
“Our continued advocacy and grassroots pressure have started to change the political culture so that more legislators feel compelled to support single payer,” she said. Dr. Flowers’ activism around improving the American healthcare system is in its second decade, but she is feeling confident.
She said, “We never know what the future will hold or how close we are, but all signs are positive that we are on a good path and will win if we keep up our work. What this means in practical terms is that people need to educate themselves and others about National Improved Medicare for All. They need to organize in their communities and they need to pressure their legislators.”
HOPE, the organization she directs, hosts information on the healthcare debate for the public to study and organize around.
If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Rhys and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!