‘Our Healthcare Crisis Won’t Be Solved Until We Get Private Insurance Out’

FAIR's Janine Jackson interviewed Margaret Flowers about undermining single-payer healthcare for the March 2, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript that originally appeared on FAIR.org.

Margaret Flowers (image: BillMoyers.com): “This is a time for us to be pushing harder. We can change the political feasibility. That’s something that the public has the power to do.”

MP3 Link to CounterSpin Interview

Janine Jackson: When you hear that Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon have a plan to “fix” healthcare, questions, shall we say, naturally arise about how transformative it’s likely to be, this plan of super-wealthy corporate executives that they insist would be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”

But if the plan comes from a group represented as liberal, and its spokespeople talk about “universal coverage” and “healthcare as a right,” and the New York Times declares it “a better single-payer plan,” well, what are you to think?

Here to help us see what’s going on in a new healthcare proposal that you will be hearing about is Margaret Flowers. Margaret Flowers is co-director ofPopular Resistance and coordinator of the national Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign. She joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Margaret Flowers.

Margaret Flowers: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: I guess I have a straightforward question: What is it, this “Medicare Extra for All” plan? It certainly sounds good.

MF: Sure. To people who are not policy wonks, it sounds great, because it uses the language that the movement for a single-payer healthcare plan has been using for a long time, “Medicare for All.” But the plan that the Center for American Progress is proposing is actually just another try at the public option that was put out there back in 2008, 2009, during the time when we had the health reform process in Congress, under the Obama administration. So it’s just creating an opportunity for people to join Medicare, including the private insurance portion of Medicare, which is known as the Medicare Advantage Plan. It’s another attempt at incremental health reform that doesn’t actually get at the root of the problems, but uses the language of the movement for health reform.

JJ: When I read accounts, I see, from the Center for American Progress itself, they say, “Medicare Extra for All would guarantee universal coverage and eliminate underinsurance.” What are they talking about with that claim?

MF: This is exactly the same terms that were used when the Affordable Care Act was put together. So you think about the time of the Affordable Care Act. There was a very strong public support for a National Improved Medicare for All, or single-payer health plan. The members of Congress who are funded by the industries that are profiting off of our current health system didn’t want to go against their campaign funders, but had to do something that was appealing to the public, so they said it would be affordable, guaranteed and universal. We knew that it was never going to be any of those things.

And they used something called a public option to convince single-payer supporters that they were asking for too much, and this was more politically feasible, and that it would be a backdoor to single-payer, and a lot of people fell for it.

The Affordable Care Act is resulting in the things we predicted that it would: high insurance premiums, high out-of-pocket costs for people, so that they may have insurance, but not be able to use it. A lot of people are saying, we don’t want to go backwards, but we also don’t want to fix the Affordable Care Act. We are ready for a National Improved Medicare for All. We are ready to join the rest of the world. So how do members of Congress, and their supporting institutions, once again try to convince the public to do something that’s less than what they want? And that’s what this whole proposal is about.

JJ: I find it so continually frustrating. In the media coverage, we see AP referringto “political pragmatism,” in talking about this plan from the Center for American Progress. David Leonhardt at the New York Times used the term “realpolitik.” The insistence with which corporate media declare that things that the majority of the public want—and in this case, that other countries around the world have been doing for years—that they’re just not politically possible, that, “well, sure we all want them, but you just can’t achieve them,” you know, at FAIR, we call that things being “not journalistically viable.” It’s something where corporate elites simply say: It can’t be done. But why can’t it be done?

Life expectancy vs. health spending (Incidental Economist11/22/13)

MF: Well, there’s no reason that it can’t be done. We’re already spending enough money in the United States to provide high-quality, comprehensive health coverage to every single person living here. We pay twice as much as the average other wealthy nation does on healthcare, and they cover everyone. They have better health outcomes. They have a longer life expectancy.

What’s interesting is, this same tactic was tried at the end of last summer. There was a very strong push, as people may remember, in Congress, with the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And out of that, people were pushing to not repeal it, but to actually push for a single-payer healthcare system. And so in August and September, there was a whole round of articles coming out. And I looked at them, and I kind of boiled down what their talking points were, and they were all the same: Single-payer advocates are asking for too much change at once; they don’t have the details worked out; other countries don’t have pure, single-payer systems; there’s too much opposition; we can’t do it all at once; we have to do what’s politically feasible.

And the same arguments are being used again this time. The reality is that our healthcare crisis is not going to be solved until we get the private insurance industry out of it. They add nothing but complication, and sucking money out of our systems for their own profit.

And that’s what a single-payer healthcare system does. The majority of the public supports it. We were starting to get record numbers of members of Congress to feel that they have to get on board with it. Our movement is actually starting to win. And when you look at the history of successful social movements, we can expect these exact tactics: that the power-holders are going to say: “Oh right, we’re on your side. We want to do what you want.” But they’re actually not doing it. So this is a time for us to be pushing harder. We can change the political feasibility. That’s something that the public has the power to do.

JJ: Now, are there specific pieces of legislation that exist right now, something concrete that people can be talking about being for?

MF: Absolutely. We have legislation in the House called HR 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. It’s been introduced every session since 2003, and it was really based on principles and a framework that was put together by advocates for a single-payer healthcare system. We have over 120 cosponsors in the House right now. More than half the Democrats have signed on to it. Lots of Democrats who are running for congressional seats are running on a platform of support for it.

And then Senator Sanders introduced a bill in the Senate last year, S.1804 called the Medicare for All Act; it purports to do a single-payer healthcare system and it has some weaknesses, but also some strengths. It’s not as ideal as HR 676, but it’s another piece of legislation in the Senate.

JJ: Let me just ask you, briefly: So when someone’s out to dinner and someone says: “Hey, Center for American Progress, they’re a liberal group, and they’ve got this Medicare for All, Medicare Extra for All. It sounds really good.” What does one say, in terms of explaining why this is not single-payer? What’s a kind of succinct way to get that across?

MF: Well, the basic thing is that it keeps the complicated, private insurance system that we have here intact, and just adds more people into the public system. And so health insurance is going to continue to be expensive. It will continue to deny people care, and people will still face financial barriers, like co-pays and deductibles.

JJ: Calling it “Medicare Extra for All,” saying it guarantees universal coverage, saying it eliminates underinsurance…. That’s just deceptive.

MF: Right. It says that people are eligible or are able to buy into Medicare, but we’re going to keep the other parts of our system intact, the employer system, the other private plans that are out there. So it’s the language that they use. Under National Improved Medicare for All, when it starts, everybody is in the system all at once. It’s not that people are eligible. They’re in, and that’s the difference.

JJ: All right, then. We’ve been speaking with Margaret Flowers. She’s co-director of Popular Resistance and coordinator of the national Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign. You can get more information on HealthOverProfit.org. Margaret Flowers, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

MF: Thank you.