Benjamin Ellis



On Single-Payer Healthcare

The Hill is reporting that Democrats are preparing for a second round of healthcare debates. In doing so, many Democrats say they will consider a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system as an option.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, June 23, 2017, suggests that the Democrats might have their work cut out for them not only among some fellow Democrats but among the public. “Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a ‘single payer’ approach to health insurance, up 5 percentage points since January and 12 points since 2014. Democrats – especially liberal Democrats – are much more supportive of this approach than they were even at the start of this year,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Democrats have long advocated for universal healthcare in America. In 1945, President Harry Truman outlined a 5 point plan for universal healthcare.

In his letter to Congress, Truman stated that it was time to provide “the right adequate medical care,” stating: “Our new Economic Bill of Rights should mean health security for all, regardless of residence, station, or race — everywhere in the United States. We should resolve now that the health of this Nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the Nation.”

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, which serves as a single-payer healthcare system for Americans over 65 and is America’s most popular gov’t program after Social Security. As the Intercept has pointed out, the original intent of the framers of Medicare, was that one day it would be expanded to cover all Americans. Medicare for seniors was a fallback and a stepping stone.

According to Robert Ball who was the commissioner of Social Security under Johnson: “We all saw insurance for the elderly as a fallback position, which we advocated solely because it seemed to have the best chance politically. Although the public record contains some explicit denials, we expected Medicare to be the first step toward universal national health insurance, perhaps with ‘Kiddicare’ as another step.”

In the 1970s, Democratic senator Ted Kennedy put forward a bill that would ensure healthcare for all Americans. For the next four decades, Kennedy served as a strong proponent of universal healthcare. He once teamed up with Democratic representative Martha Griffiths on another universal healthcare bill.

In 1972, Kennedy stated: “The Federal government would become the health insurance carrier for the entire nation. Only government can operate such an insurance program in the best interest of all the people. We can no longer afford the health insurance industry in America, and we should not waste vast funds bailing it out.”

Even in 1993, before he began gutting welfare, privatizing industries, deregulating the banks, expanding the prison industrial complex, and slashing spending, President Clinton proposed a universal healthcare plan of his own. Ironically, in response to the Clinton plan, Republicans in Congress turned to a Heritage Foundation plan from the late 1980s which would have mandated that all Americans purchase health insurance; today, this is known as Obamacare.

Just nine years ago, universal healthcare made it into the 2008 Democratic Party platform. In the opening paragraph, the platform reads, “We believe that quality and affordable health care is a basic right.”

The platform goes on to elaborate, making an even stronger commitment to ensuring coverage to all Americans: “If one thing came through in the platform hearings, it was that Democrats are united around a commitment that every American man, woman, and child be guaranteed affordable, comprehensive healthcare. The American people understand that good health is the foundation of individual achievement and economic prosperity. Ensuring quality, affordable health care for every single American is essential to children’s education, workers’ productivity, and businesses’ competitiveness. We believe that covering all is not just a moral imperative, but is necessary to making our health system workable and affordable.”

In 2009, former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who was a co-sponsor of the Kennedy-Griffiths universal healthcare bill in the ’70s, wrote in a piece for Washington Post that, “If we want comprehensive health care for all our citizens, we can achieve it with a single sentence: Congress hereby extends Medicare to all Americans.”

Universal healthcare has long been a Democratic goal and Democrats have fought for it for decades. The time to act is now!