By Paul Krugman
The New York Times, July 3, 2018
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset primary victory has produced a huge amount of punditry about the supposed radicalization of the Democratic party, how it’s going to hurt the party because her positions won’t sell in the Midwest (and how well would Steve King’s positions sell in the Bronx?), etc., etc.. But I haven’t seen much about the substance of the policies she advocates, which on economics are mainly Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee.
So here’s what you should know: the policy ideas are definitely bold, and you can make some substantive arguments against them. But they aren’t crazy. By contrast, the ideas of Tea Party Republicans are crazy; in fact, Ocasio-Cortez’s policy positions are a lot more sensible than those of the Republican mainstream, let alone the GOP’s more radical members.
So, about Ocasio-Cortez’s positions: Medicare for all is a deliberately ambiguous phrase, but in practice probably wouldn’t mean pushing everyone into a single-payer system. Instead, it would mean allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare – basically a big public option. That’s really not radical at all.
The “pleasant ambiguity” of Medicare-for-all in 2018, explained: Are we talking about single-payer health care or something else?
By Dylan Scott
Vox, July 2, 2018
Democrats across the country are running on three simple words, recognizable to every American: Medicare for all.
In Democratic primaries around the country, Medicare-for-all candidates are winning.
Even before these candidates started winning, polling was showing that Medicare-for-all is really popular: 62 percent of Americans liked the sound of it in last November. Almost every single rumored 2020 candidate in the Senate has backed Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill. It’s clear the idea is in ascendancy among Democrats.
But someday, a reckoning will come. When Democrats hold power again — especially control of Congress and the White House — they will be expected to actually deliver on these Medicare-for-all promises. And when that day arrives, the party will have to decide whether they want to blow up America’s current health care system to build something new or figure out a less disruptive path, but risk falling short of truly universal coverage.
What does “Medicare-for-all” actually mean?
Historically, Medicare-for-all has meant single-payer health insurance, a national government-run program that covered every American and replaced private coverage entirely, similar to the government-run health care programs in Canada and some European countries.
Then-Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) first introduced the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act in 2003. It’s now sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and it is still a single-payer proposal.
But these days, other plans are falling under the Medicare-for-all umbrella. Some progressives are even comfortable with the term being applied to the various proposals to allow all Americans buy into Medicare. Some of those plans used to be branded as a “public option”; they would not end private insurance that more than half of Americans get, usually through work, as a true single-payer would. But these plans would also not provide the same guarantee of universal coverage that a single-payer system does.
“For anybody who supports Medicare-for-all single payer, what better way to debunk the right wing lies than to allow millions and millions of Americans to voluntarily opt into Medicare and love it?” (Adam Green, co-founder of the lefty Progressive Change Campaign Committee) told me. “As a political strategy, having Medicare-for-all be a broad umbrella where any candidate can embrace some version of it… that moves the center of gravity in the Democratic party.”
Medicare-for-all is uniting Democrats for now — but it could divide them later
That explains why there’s this fledgling competition over what Medicare-for-all is really describing.
The best example might be the health care plan from the Center of American Progress, which is, tellingly, called “Medicare Extra For All.” It’s a seriously ambitious plan, one that would achieve universal coverage through a combination of government plans and private insurance, while preserving employer-based insurance for those who want it. But it is not single payer. And it is notably produced by an organization closely aligned with the Democratic establishment.
The scars from the Obamacare reveal themselves in this debate. For all the health care law has achieved, it also showed the limits of incrementalism. Even Medicaid expansion, the closest thing the law had to a single-payer pilot, was undermined by the Supreme Court by allowing Republican-led states to refuse it. The Obamacare insurance markets have been susceptible to sabotage from Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration.
Yes, the uninsured rate has reached historic lows under Obamacare, but 10 percent of Americans still lack coverage. Democrats will be faced again, at some point, with a choice between a more incremental approach, like the Medicare public options introduced by some Democrats in Congress, or a sweeping overhaul like single-payer.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
“Medicare for all…would mean allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare – basically a big public option.” Who says? Well Paul Krugman and many others. This is not simply a debate about labels. This is a debate about fundamental policy. Are we going to accept the status quo with the tweak of a public option, or are we going to address the fundamental defects in our system that have driven up costs, perpetuated mediocrity, and left tens of millions vulnerable with impaired access to health care with all of its consequences and often with intolerable financial hardship?
This is similar to the debate that took place within the Democratic Party just before Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama began jockeying for the 2008 presidential nomination. The Democratic Party machine was in complete control of the policy debate on health care reform. The neoliberal party elite had decided that we were going to “build on what works” – employer-sponsored and union-supported plans – and reject single payer based on their concepts of what was politically feasible. Those of us advocating for the expanded and improved Medicare for all single payer approach were ejected from the conversations (often rudely so – they were in charge!).
Similarly, with the contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, the debate at the platform committee confirmed that the battle had not changed. The neoliberal leadership, represented by Neera Tanden, was successful in rejecting the single payer Medicare for all plank.
Tanden, of the Center of American Progress, has continued the fight for control of the policy debate by releasing their new proposal, “Medicare Extra For All.” Although some of the tweaks proposed seem beneficial, it basically continues the current dysfunctional, fragmented financing system, but with one important political change. They have stolen the “Medicare for all” label! This has contributed to the ubiquitous deception that the public option is Medicare for all. When the current candidates campaign on Medicare for all but behind the scenes are supporting an option to buy into Medicare while accepting campaign funds from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, we need to call them on their deception.
It is no wonder the public is confused, even if they do not realize it. When Nobel laureate Paul Krugman jumps in and says Medicare for all is allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare as a public option, then we know that the political campaigns are corrupted with deceptions. How can we get the public to understand that a well designed, single payer national health program – a bona fide Improved Medicare for All – is the reform that they crave?
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