In an op-ed for the New York Times, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says that he plans to introduce a bill that would replace private health insurance with Medicare for “every family in America.” Sanders, who bills himself as a democratic socialist, believes that the answer to the Obamacare crisis is more government control of the nation’s healthcare.
Under the Sanders plan, a four-year transition period would move the country from private health insurance to a national single-payer plan. Sanders describes the details of the transition:
“In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered. In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35. By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.”
Sen. John Barasso (R-Wy.) pre-empted many of Sanders’ arguments in a Tuesday op-ed on Fox News. Barasso, a medical doctor, pointed out that single-payer plans in other countries have not worked out well. “The British have found rationing necessary partly because of the exorbitant cost of ‘free’ medical care,” he wrote. Barasso also cited “the shortage of professionals to provide this care” as the number of British doctors, nurses and midwives has dropped in recent years.
While Sanders and others cite poor outcomes of American healthcare, Barasso points out, “The U.K. ranks 20th out of 24 western countries for breast cancer survival. The U.S. is first. For ischemic stroke the U.K. is 25th out of 30 countries. The U.S. is fourth.”
While Sanders’ proposal will be a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Congress, it could portend things to come if Democrats return to the majority. Opinion polls in recent months have indicated a growing support for a federal role in healthcare. Pew Research found that 60 percent of Americans say that it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure healthcare coverage for all Americans. Last spring, an Economist/You Gov poll found that that 60 percent favored a Medicare-for-all approach. That number includes 40 percent of Trump voters.
While most conservatives and Republicans will ridicule Sanders’ proposal as radical and dead-on-arrival, the idea of Medicare-for-all might have broader appeal than they suspect. If conservatives do not confront the idea head-on by enacting a better proposal, it is very possible that Republicans could face an invigorated Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020.
It is a cautionary tale to recall that Republicans defeated Hillarycare in the 1990s, but then failed to enact healthcare reforms of their own during the Bush Administration. That failure led directly to the election of Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.