By Aaron Blake
Washington Post, May 5, 2017
President Trump claimed a victory Thursday after the House approved a more free-market approach to health care.
Then he capped it off by praising a country with government-run, universal health care.
Alongside Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at an event in New York, Trump reflected on what the House had just done. He took the occasion to bash Obamacare as being terrible, and then he turned to Turnbull.
“We have a failing health care — I shouldn’t say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia,” Trump said, as The Post’s Abby Phillip reports, “because you have better health care than we do.”
Australia’s health-care system is run by the government. It’s essentially a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system that is available to everyone, with private insurance also available. (They even call it “Medicare.”)
Consider this merely the latest evidence that Trump, in his heart of hearts, wants single-payer health care. Indeed, it seems to be his forbidden fruit.
Back in 2000, he advocated for it as both a potential Reform Party presidential candidate and in his book, “The America We Deserve.”
“We must have universal health care. Just imagine the improved quality of life for our society as a whole,” he wrote, adding: “The Canadian-style, single-payer system in which all payments for medical care are made to a single agency (as opposed to the large number of HMOs and insurance companies with their diverse rules, claim forms and deductibles) … helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans.”
Just before the 2016 campaign, Trump appeared on David Letterman’s show and held up Scotland’s socialized system as the ideal.
“A friend of mine was in Scotland recently. He got very, very sick. They took him by ambulance and he was there for four days. He was really in trouble, and they released him and he said, ‘Where do I pay?’ And they said, ‘There’s no charge,’” Trump said. “Not only that, he said it was like great doctors, great care. I mean, we could have a great system in this country.”
Then, early in the 2016 campaign, he again praised the single-payer systems in Scotland and Canada — while also arguing that the United States needed to have a private system.
Asked on “Morning Joe” whether he supported single-payer, he said: “No, but it’s certainly something that in certain countries works. It actually works incredibly well in Scotland. Some people think it really works in Canada. But not here, I don’t think it would work as well here.”
He said two days later at a GOP debate: “As far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.”
Later on, Trump would repeatedly push for universal health care without specifically subscribing to the words “single-payer.”
“Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say,” Trump said in a September 2015 “60 Minutes” interview. “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
He added when asked who is going to pay for it: “The government’s gonna pay for it.” That was enough for Breitbart, which would become vehemently pro-Trump during the 2016 campaign, to declare Trump had embraced single-payer.
Then Trump told The Washington Post mere days before his inauguration, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He clarified: “I don’t want single-payer. What I do want is to be able to take care of people.”
And some see the current debate eventually winding up with single-payer.
Law professor F.H. Buckley argued in the New York Post last month that, in the face of defeat for the Republican health-care bill, Trump should just go for it. He argued that it would be a great thing for the Republican Party because it would eliminate Democrats’ claim to being the party of compassion and that Trump’s supporters would actually like it.
“Leave behind all the people who hated you, who curse when you succeed,” Buckley wrote. “Reach out to the people who voted for you. Challenge the Democrats by offering them what they’ve always said they wanted.”
It’s not the most far-fetched thing in the world — the idea that health-care reform would fail and Trump would pursue the thing that he’s praised for years. Sixty percent of Americans believe the government should guarantee health care, according to a recent Pew study, and even Republicans have moved toward this position. But it would risk breaking the Republican Party in half. The GOP has warmed to Trump’s pro-big-government message, but even that could have limits.
Whatever happens, though, Trump’s past — and now current — rhetoric doesn’t lie: He’s pretty impressed with government-run health care in the places it works. It’s almost like he wishes he could do it here.