Ever since Donald Trump took office, a fierce debate has raged within the Democratic Party and progressive circles over blame, electoral strategy and how to move forward.
A major point of contention between ideological camps within the party during the 2016 election, the healthcare debate, continues to be fought as Democrats try to figure out what the winning strategy for their party’s future will be. There remains a huge amount of disagreement among the American political left over how our country’s healthcare sector should be organized – whether the reforms of Obamacare are enough, or whether we should replace for-profit healthcare with a single-payer system.
Enter Bernie Sanders, who has introduced his “Medicare for All” single-payer healthcare bill. The bill would cover the health expenses of all Americans, with payments coming only from the government. The bill includes a few options for paying for this expanded healthcare coverage, but they mostly boil down to the expected taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
To be clear, there’s no way this bill will pass either the House or Senate, or that it would be signed by President Trump if it did. Single-payer healthcare is a reform that requires Democratic control over the government, something they completely lack now. What makes this bill most notable is who’s getting behind it.
Sixteen Democratic senators have expressed support for the bill, which is about a third of the Democrats in the Senate. Support for single-payer healthcare has become a sort of progressive litmus test within the Democratic Party, serving as an on-the-record identifier of being part of the “Sanders Wing.” The reason Sanders has introduced his healthcare bill now is to double down on the disruption his presidential campaign caused within the party and create more visible support for single-payer within the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The timing means that Democratic senators are being asked to comment on their support for the bill leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, where 23 Democratic senators will be seeking re-election. Additionally, several of the bill’s supporters are almost certainly running for president in 2020. If single-payer healthcare becomes a litmus test for the next presidential election, it could drive the party in a boldly progressive direction.
We only need to look back to the New Deal era to see the Democratic Party passing legislation very similar to Sanders’ bill, like Medicare and Social Security. The Democrats have the opportunity, with the adoption of a single-payer plank to their platform, of initiating a monumental shift in their own policy trajectory as well as in the national political conversation. Whoever the next Democratic president is, they could be poised to reclaim for the party the mantle of New Deal-era social democracy.
As Maria writes about below, most of the developed world enjoys a form of single-payer healthcare at lower total healthcare costs than we pay here. It’s cheaper, it delivers better healthcare outcomes and it causes no one to go bankrupt from medical costs. As healthcare costs continue to rise, it is becoming increasingly clear that our choice is now between a Republican replacement for Obamacare, whatever that may end up looking like, and a single-payer system.