Medicare for all

8/24/2017, 2:51 p.m.
Recently we joined our friends and allies in cheering the defeat of Senate bills to dismantle the Affordable Care Act ...
George Gresham Contributed

Recently we joined our friends and allies in cheering the defeat of Senate bills to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and deny health care to millions of Americans.

Throughout the torturous attempts of Senate Republicans to mutilate Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood and transfer close to a trillion dollars to the super-wealthy, two Republican women steadfastly voted their conscience. We commend Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for their refusal to be cowed by President Trump and their party’s leadership. But make no mistake, the victory for patients, caregivers and for the right to quality care was forged by those who called, marched, sat in and advocated for the human right to health care and by those in the health care community.

We must remain vigilant because the administration and its congressional allies will undoubtedly continue their assault on the ACA. The attacks will most likely focus on the troubled subsidized individual health insurance market, although the problems with these profit-driven markets predate the ACA.

The Medicaid expansion, on the other hand, is a resounding success. The more than 20 million previously uninsured who gained coverage under the ACA have no interest in giving it up, nor should they. But rather than reduce the number of uninsured, as the GOP defeated bills would have done, we need to dramatically increase coverage and continue our march toward universal health care.

And that is what the people of our country want. A recent Gallup Poll found that 73 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of all Americans favor a federal funded health care program that would include all Americans. A recent Pew report found that 60 percent of all Americans favored a federally guaranteed health care system. Such a program would put us in step with the rest of the industrialized world. Today, we are the only industrialized nation without universal health care.

And here, in the world’s wealthiest and most technologically developed country, Americans pay far more than most advanced countries for health care. Other governments are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with providers, and there are no insurance companies adding additional costs. The administrative costs for Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors and some disabled persons, is between 1 percent and 5 percent. The costs for those with private insurance is 18 percent. And as for health outcomes, the United States, despite its wealth and vast medical resources, ranks a shameful 26th in the world in life expectancy.

Supporting Medicare for all are scores of medical, national, faith-based, state and local organizations. Former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore also have declared support. A number of states have introduced single-payer plans. In May, a single-payer bill passed the New York State Assembly for the fourth time, but it stalled one vote shy of passage in the Senate.

Now, single payer is inching its way into the Democratic Party’s mainstream. For the first time, a majority of House Democrats have signed on to a “Medicare for all” legislation. The bill, HR676, was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime proponent of single payer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is introducing a companion bill in the Senate. The bill has the support of Democratic senatiors such as Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Given the makeup of the current Congress, passage of single payer is unlikely this year, but it is not too early to build a movement that can move the measure closer to passage in the next Congress.

So, while we continue to defend the ACA, it is also time to go on the offense. The only viable path to health care for all builds on—not destroys—the ACA by increasing access, improving benefits and controlling costs. Medicare for all achieves all three. As progressives put our heads together, share resources and continue to march together, we can hammer out the details of a winnable single payer plan and quality care for all. It’s past time to stop putting the profits of the few over the needs of the many.

George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union in New York and the largest health care union in the nation.