July 15, 2019

What’s So Confusing About Medicare for All?

by Rian Bosse

From the Arizona for Bernie 2020 weekly newsletter.

Senator Bernie Sanders in Arizona in 2016. (Gage Skidmore)

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As the Late Show’s “Just One Question” bit with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed, Medicare for All is a pretty simple idea. You know Medicare? Well, expand it to cover everyone.

Which is why it might come as some surprise to find a number of media organizations reporting recently that the public is confused when it comes to Medicare for All. New York magazine claims that recent polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Navigator Research show voters say they want Medicare for All, but don’t really know what it is.

As this response from ThinkProgress argues, however, there are a variety of reasons why that might appear to be so. Many Democratic lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates have sent mixed messages on their support for universal health care and, of course, the for-profit health care industry is spending a lot of money to misinform the public. 

As we learned from an Intercept article last November, confusion about what Medicare for All really is was the industry’s plan all along. Leaked organizing documents of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, an alliance of insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital lobbyists who have teamed up with the explicit purpose of defeating Medicare for All, show that their whole strategy revolves around confusing Americans about what Medicare for All is so that it is not part of the Democratic platform in 2020. 

Confusion about Medicare for All is not a sign that voters don’t want Medicare for All. It’s a sign that the $143 million that the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future spent last year on ads undermining the Medicare for All movement has understandably muddied the waters. 

Medicare for All is a straightforward idea that resonates with ordinary people, and it’s our job to make sure that big pharma and the insurance industry’s confusion campaign is revealed to be the ugly lie that it is. Thankfully this task is made easier by politicians like Bernie Sanders, who has made Medicare for All a cornerstone of his political platform.

Recently, in a speech defending his case for democratic socialism in the United States, Sanders explained Medicare for All as a policy that prioritizes the health of working-class people over the profits of corporations. He emphasised how the wealthy profit from issues that affect poor and working class people — things like poverty wages, the racism of the criminal justice system, climate change and, as mentioned, healthcare insecurity. As Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote about the speech in Jacobin:

Sanders described how “unfettered” greed and exploitation by the “billionaire class” is the central source of misery in the lives of ordinary Americans. Perhaps most poignantly, he graphically illustrated the most macabre disparity within US society by highlighting the stark difference in life expectancy between the rich and the working class. 

If you haven’t seen it already, you can watch and read Bernie’s entire speech here. For more context on the speech, check out the rest of Taylor’s article in Jacobin. The magazine also ran an informative piece on why Bernie talked about the New Deal in the speech and continues to while on the campaign trail. 

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Rian Bosse is a member of Phoenix DSA.