By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Shefali Luthra
The New York Times, October 19, 2018
After decades in the political wilderness, “Medicare for all” and single-payer health care are suddenly popular. The words appear in political advertisements and are cheered at campaign rallies — even in deep-red states.
Republicans are concerned enough that this month President Trump wrote a scathing op-ed essay that portrayed Medicare for all as a threat to older people and to American freedom.
It is not that. But what exactly these proposals mean to many of the people who say they support them remains unclear.
More than 120 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill called the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, up from 62 in 2016. And at least 70 have joined Capitol Hill’s new Medicare for All Caucus.
But some worry the terms “Medicare for all” and “single payer” are at risk of becoming empty campaign slogans. In precise terms, Medicare for all means bringing all Americans under the government’s insurance program now reserved for people 65 and over, while single-payer health care would have the government pay everyone’s medical bills. But few are speaking precisely.
For every candidate with a clear proposal in mind, another uses the phrases as a proxy for voter frustration. The risk, some critics say, is that “Medicare for all” could become a Democratic version of the Republican “repeal and replace” slogan — a vote-getter that does not translate to political action because there is neither agreement about what it means nor a viable plan.
Dr. Carol Paris, the president of Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group, said she has fielded a number of calls from candidates asking for tutorials on Medicare for all.
“I’m heartened, but not persuaded” that all the high-profile talk will result in any action, she said. She worries about what she called “faux ‘Medicare for all’ plans” that don’t live up to the mantra.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
“Medicare for All” means fixing Medicare and then expanding it to include everyone. It is a straightforward concept that has gained widespread support in the United States. Because of its popularity, many politicians on the left have latched onto the “Medicare for All” label to use in their campaigning while remaining quite vague on the fact that they really support the post-Obamacare status quo for most of us, with the addition of a public option or Medicare buy-in. Those on the right have noticed that this chicanery has gained traction and so, led by President Trump, they are condemning “Medicare for All” using whatever pejorative terms suit their campaigns.
Soon the midterm campaigns will be over. At that time we need to pressure those who said they support Medicare for All to live up to their campaign promise and cosponsor bona fide Improved Medicare for All legislation. For those who claim to be opposed to Medicare for All but also said that they now support a guarantee of health care for individuals with pre-existing disorders, we need to convince them that a single payer national health program is the most efficient and equitable method of achieving that goal. Maybe we’ll even let them call it Trumpcare if that gets the job done.
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