Medicare for all? It’s not a matter of ‘whether’ we’ll have it, but ‘when’ | Sean P. Quinlan

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks in this 2014 photo (U.S.Dept. of Labor / WikiMedia Commons)

By Sean P. Quinlan

The “Exceptionalism” of the United States is a defining feature of our Great Republic.

Allowing for a largely unique take on personal liberties and the relationship between citizens and government, American Exceptionalism has allowed for humankind to put boots on the moon, become the “Arsenal of

Sean P. Quinlan (Capital-Star file photo)

Democracy” in World War Two, emerge victorious from the Cold War and become the richest country on the planet in a relatively short period of time.

However, American Exceptionalism also has a flip-side.  Take, for example American health-care.  While the rest of the industrialized Western world enjoys some variant of universal, single-payer health-care, the US is very much the exception to that.

As a result, millions of Americans find themselves languishing under a multi-layered, patchwork quilt like system of for-profit healthcare.

An arrangement that casually and inexplicably leaves many without coverage to the whim of injury, disease and death.  Incidents of medical bankruptcies and daily struggling with medical bills are near legendary in the US. The same problem is virtually unheard of in any other comparable Western country.

Unsurprisingly then, the number of Americans that are in favor of a Medicare-for-all system based on abolishing the current insurance-backed scheme and replacing it with a single-payer system is consistently high, polling at 70 percent in late 2018.

That is in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act, putting millions of Americans unnecessarily at risk of having no health insurance, and supposedly replacing it with something vaguely described as “tremendous,” “much cheaper,” and “making really smart deals with hospitals.”

That of course, proved to be utterly conspicuous by its absence, with Trump now in his second year in the Oval Office.  Millions of Americans are still afraid of getting hurt or sick and the financial woes that that can unleash.

In other words, it’s healthcare business as usual – in every sense of the word.

Medicare-for-all was a position that was articulated by any number of Democratic candidates during the recent November midterm elections. As an issue popular with a large portion of the electorate, it seemed like a good potential vote-getter.

Take for example Harley Rouda – a Democratic freshman, representing California’s 48th Congressional District.

Triumphant in November 2018, Rouda gained additional acclaim in defeating Republican long-term incumbent Dana Rohrabacher.

Rouda had also been a vocal proponent in the run-up to the election for Medicare-for-all.  It was an integral part of his electoral platform. However, post-election and Rouda has seemingly cooled on this.  Medicare-for-all has now become a “long-term goal” and Rouda’s position has been neutered to one of making sure that healthcare is “right for all Americans.”

See that rug over there?  Under it seems to be where Rouda now wants to be sweeping his earlier Medicare-for-all proposals.

And he’s not alone.

A small, but troubling, number of Democratic candidates who won election by running on a Medicare-for-all pledge, are also getting cold feet on the issue.

Freshmen Democratic U.S. Reps. Katie Hill, of California; Susan Wild, of Pennsylvania, and Colin Allred, of Texas, to name a few, have adopted the same approach as Rouda.

One theory behind this morphing on Medicare-for-all is that those freshman have now had the reality of Washington politics fully dawn on them and have moderated their position for reasons of pragmatism and some kind of abstract health-care “long game.”

The problem with that is that the American people have waited way too long as it is – generations long. Health issues affect us all and are oblivious to waiting-games. Too much waiting, resulting in delayed medical help, procedures and surgery (as millions of Americans frequently do) can be and often are debilitating or fatal.

Medicare-for-all is a deadly serious issue in today’s America.

Given then the enduring popularity of Medicare with voters, it is then extremely disappointing to see some of those same Democratic candidates, victorious at election time, now backing away from those electoral campaign pledges.

US healthcare is by orders of magnitude the most expensive yet increasingly lags behind its Western peers.  Indeed, in the last three years, US life expectancy has actually decreased.

The primary reasons include drug abuse and suicide – highlighting the fact that mental health issues as a major unaddressed problem in the country and that our current “for-profit” healthcare system is woefully ill-prepared to deal with that.

It is simply no longer viable or morally acceptable for millions of hard-working Americans to have to endure the fear and reality of being crushed by the worry of medical bills, debt, death and bankruptcy.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve put men on the moon.  We’ve distinguished ourselves from other countries through our vision of what should be for the future.  When it comes to healthcare for all, the political will is there. What we need is politicians that will stand by their campaign promises as fervently as they stand by healthcare campaign contributors.

The United States needs the drumbeat of Medicare-for-all to be intensified, not muffled. Millions of lives hang in the balance.

Capital-Star Opinion contributor Sean P. Quinlan is an attorney and former Democratic candidate for the 87th House District. He writes from Camp Hill, Pa. His work appears biweekly.

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