By John Conyers Jr.
Detroit Free Press, April 3, 2017
I’m as happy as anyone with the way the Republicans’ plan to wreck our healthcare system crashed and burned last week. And President Donald Trump is right: Republicans lost because Democrats beat them. We beat them because we were organized, we were unified and we were backed by unprecedented grassroots energy. Members of the U.S. Congress hosted dozens of rallies, advocacy organizations hosted hundreds more and constituents showed up in overwhelming numbers at town halls across this country to make their voices heard.
And what exactly was their message? One of the most poignant moments came at a town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, where a constituent explained her opposition to the GOP bill using faith. As a Christian, she said, her faith was rooted in helping the unfortunate, not cutting taxes on the rich, so why not expand Medicaid and allow everyone to have insurance? And she’s not alone. Last week, a Quinnipiac survey found that voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Medicaid — 74% of them — including 54% among Republicans.
Given the record high support for publicly funded healthcare, economists, policy experts and commentators everywhere have called on the Democratic party to build on our momentum by supporting a single payer system. But perhaps the most convincing case I heard came from Jessi Bohan, the teacher from Cookeville, Tennessee who spoke at Rep. Black’s town hall.
The week after her question went viral she wrote to the Washington Post that she was troubled to see her comments used as a “defense of Obamacare” instead of what they were: an indictment of any healthcare policy that leaves anyone out. As Bohan so eloquently put it, “it is immoral for health care to be a for-profit enterprise” that allows insurance companies to make “enormous sums of money off the sick while people are struggling to pay their medical bills.” If she had it to do over again, she wrote, she would have explained to Black “the Christian case for universal, single-payer health insurance, which would protect all Americans.”
While her message was targeted at Republicans, it is one that many of my colleagues in the Democratic Party need to hear as well. For two weeks, I’ve watched Democrats point to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Paul Ryan bill and express righteous outrage that it would lead to 24 million Americans losing their insurance. But that same CBO score says that 28 million Americans will still be without insurance even under the Affordable Care Act. I’m impressed that the ACA has expanded Medicaid eligibility in states that have adopted it and more than 20 million previously uninsured now have insurance, but universal healthcare it is not.
Time and time again I’ve heard Democrats dodge questions about their support for universal healthcare by saying they’re focused right now on defending the ACA. Now that we have repelled Paul Ryan’s attack and Donald Trump has signaled that Republicans will move on, the time for those excuses has passed.
For years, I’ve also watched as Democrats, including our presidential nominee last year, have avoided putting their name behind single payer by saying they’re focused on politically achievable short-term goals.
Single payer is politically achievable.
Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and other polling organizations have found that there is majority support for Medicare for All in America today. But more important, elected officials are not supposed to move to the political center, we are supposed to stake out the moral center and convince others to join us there.
November’s election results showed that we can’t just say “the other side is awful,” however true that may be, and expect Americans to flock to us. To win again, we must be a party of principles and present bold ideas and a vision for the future.
It is true that single-payer healthcare has been implemented in virtually every other advanced democracy on Earth. It is also true that in those countries, people live longer and healthcare is dramatically less expensive than it is here. And finally, it is true that Medicare for All is the direction Americans overwhelmingly want us to go. Nevertheless, I want my colleagues to join me in supporting single-payer not to save money or to win elections, but because it is the moral and just thing to do. If, like me, you believe healthcare is a right to everyone and not a privilege to those who can afford it, let’s be organized and let’s be unified in our support for Medicare for All.
John Conyers represents Michigan’s 13th District in the U.S. Congress. He has introduced H.R. 676 Medicare for All bill in every Congress since 2003.