Time to Step Up, Congress
By Ross Gardiner
Members of Congress departed Capitol Hill for the July 4th recess last week hoping to celebrate the freedoms and moral turpitude of our great, young nation. But any GOP members looking forward to a couple of frosty Bud Lights and a game of cornhole are likely to be disappointed. Across the country, senators and representatives are returning to fiery town halls and irate constituents, demanding they represent the voters and oppose the disastrous Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).
The Republican party was forced to concede that Trumpcare is a resounding failure. After coming up short on support within his own party, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) delayed a vote on the hugely unpopular bill until after the recess. But it’s unlikely make a difference. In its current form, BCRA will kick 22 million more Americans off heath care by 2026 (bringing the total number of uninsured to 55–58 million according to various estimates). It will gut funding for low-income families on Medicaid, affecting mostly senior citizens and children, by $772 billion, while delivering $563 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
Wrap your head around that for a moment: in the richest nation in the world, where there are still some 28 million people uninsured and at risk, a group of elected officials are attempting to transfer half a trillion dollars to the top 0.1%.
Let’s not mince words. The Republican bill is a potential death sentence for hundreds of thousands of Americans battling serious illnesses who will be stripped of their health insurance if the industry is once again handed the power to choose what, if any, treatment you receive from your doctor. That’s exactly what happened to Hector Morales’ family in 2004. Hector’s mother was denied treatment for Ovarian Cancer after their insurer dubbed her disease a “non-life-threatening, pre-existing condition.” Today Hector is running for Congress with BNC in part to make sure more families aren’t forced into medical bankruptcy to subsidize the bottom line of a multibillion dollar corporation.
Public perception has shifted decisively in favor of a federally funded healthcare program. Gone are the days Republicans could scare people off of single-payer or decry universal coverage as communism. Not only is Mitch McConnell’s bill massively unpopular (a scant 17% of Americans support his legislation), recent polls show a seismic shift in favor of single-payer. According to recent polls from both Economist/YouGov and Pew Research, as many as 61 percent of Americans and 46% of Republicans are now in favor of a single-payer system like Medicare for All.
While it’s our belief that a morally principled government is obligated to provide basic healthcare to all of its citizens, evidence is mounting that this system will actually save the country money.
As it stands, the US pays a lot more for a lot less when it comes to healthcare. In 2016, the average American spent $10,345 on health insurance: around twice as much per capita than other developed nations with single-payer systems. Countries like the UK and France offer nationalized care to all citizens regardless of their economic status, while Canada publicly funds healthcare through private entities.
Brand New Congress’ Paul Perry (PA-07) argues that the system’s inefficiencies cost everyone money, and that communicating this clearly is vital if we’re to move towards single-payer. “It’s about raising the quality and lowering the price of healthcare for everyone,” explains Perry, former teacher, director of a non-profit, and now Democratic candidate for Congress challenging incumbent Republican Patrick Meehan. “But when uninsured people have to access emergency services without coverage, it raises premiums for everyone. Medicare for All is about spending your hard-earned tax dollars on a system that actually works.”
Business leaders are coming around on Medicare for All, as well Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and longtime Democratic donor, is a proponent of universal health care, citing how the current system hampers the American economy.
“In almost every field of American business, it pays to bring down costs,” Buffet recently told PBS NewsHour. “There’s an awful lot of people involved in the medical [industry]…the way the ecosystem works…there is no incentive to bring down costs.
Health care is gobbling up well over $3 trillion a year. It’s just about the same as the federal budget.”
The multi-billionaire business magnate went on to describe single-payer as most likely “the best system” to curb the spiraling administration costs of our current system.
To his point, the US healthcare industry spends around $200 billion annually on unnecessary administrative fees (e.g. enormous middlemen salaries and bonuses, marketing costs, claim handling, etc.), almost all of which would be eliminated by moving to single-payer. This malignant and self-perpetuating system — which Buffett once described as a “tapeworm” — is diverting spending away from public care and towards corporate coffers.
“Health insurers spend lots of time, effort, and money trying to attract people who have high odds of staying healthy (the young and the fit) while doing whatever they can to fend off those who have high odds of getting sick (the older, infirm, and the unfit),” wrote Robert Reich, former labor secretary and celebrated economist, in a recent blog post entitled “Why a Single Payer is Inevitable”. “As a result, we end up with the most bizarre health-insurance system imaginable — one ever better designed to avoid sick people.”
Single-payer was widely considered fringe policy until Sen. Bernie Sanders made it a cornerstone of his 2016 presidential campaign. Palmed off by establishment politicians as unrealistic and too expensive, Bernie’s touting of single-payer as both economically and morally vital to the country’s future is rapidly gaining public support, and the arguments against it are being quickly debunked.
“Reforming our healthcare system, simplifying our payment structure and incentivizing new ways to make sure patients are actually getting better healthcare will generate massive savings,” states Sen. Sanders on his website. His medicare-for-all plan is estimated to save over $6 trillion in the next decade, with the average family saving $5,000 in costs per year, and businesses shaving off $9,400 per employee.
Sanders’ proposal of Medicare for All became so popular, so quickly, that someone else took notice. It wasn’t long before then-candidate Donald Trump started calling for universal health care himself.
Does Trump want Medicare for All?
Trump was elected, in part, because of his promise to deliver universal coverage, a tremendous boon to rural Americans with limited access to care. This point is not lost on Republican candidates for 2018, and soon Republican lawmakers will have to answer to voters for these bills — whether or not they pass and become law.
“The system that we have today has a negative effect on small businesses and their ability to compete,” says Brand New Congress candidate Robb Ryerse (AR-03). “I have a friend here in Arkansas that owns a small business and he’s forced to keep his employee count at around 48 or 49, because he knows that as soon as he crosses that 50-employee mark, he’s required to provide healthcare, and that will be devastating to his bottom line.”
“Employers spend a lot of money processing information for the insurance industry, identifying insurance plans, and negotiating. And [under a single-payer system] that would just disappear,” says University of Massachusetts economics professor Gerald Friedman. Friedman was one of the authors of Sen. Sanders’ single-payer policy, which proposes making up additional budget requirements from a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans.
Exactly the opposite of the current Republican bill.
But while the Republicans have been perilously forcing this disastrous bill on their constituents, establishment Democrats have been predictably slow to capitalize. Be it a fear of stepping to the left of their moderate rhetoric or simply upsetting their corporate donors, the party is continuing to adopt the losing strategy of bashing Trump, pointing at Russia and admonishing the Republicans rather than giving the people something to get excited about.
By pushing forward with Trumpcare, the Republicans are aligning themselves with corporate America and against the populist movement that put Donald Trump in the White House. Yet Democrats shouldn’t celebrate prematurely. Ignoring the decisive change in public will for Medicare for All, Pelosi said in a recent press conference she has no plans to make single-payer a plank in the 2018 Democratic Party platform, and she believes most Americans are not yet comfortable with the idea of a federally funded healthcare system.
This is not the time for Democrats to play it safe nor Republicans to blindly toe the party line. The Republican bills are reckless and cruel. The Democratic position of staying the course with Obamacare is no better. Each party is asking us to choose how many millions of people we would like to lose their health insurance.
We have an answer at Brand New Congress: Zero.
While the Washington establishment works hard to appease their donors, Brand New Congress will work for the people to pursue the only health care policy that makes sense. Full coverage. For every American. With zero co-pays, zero-deductibles, and zero people left behind.
The time has come for America to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all citizens.
Ross Gardiner is a Brand New Congress volunteer and founder of Black Circle Media in Los Angeles.
Brand New Congress is a post-partisan campaign to elect hundreds of honest, accountable candidates to Congress.