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Americans Actually Do Want Medicare for All

The media and the private insurance lobbyists are doing everything they can to twist the truth about public opinion on a public health system. Don't listen: when it's described accurately to them, a majority of Americans want Medicare for All.

Supporters of Medicare for All march together in Los Angeles in February 2017. Molly Adams / flickr

America’s public debate on health care has long been riddled with misleading talking points, bad-faith commentary, and insurance industry agitprop.

This should come as no surprise: in 2017, health-care spending hit a whopping $3.5 trillion nationwide (accounting for nearly 18 percent of GDP) and for-profit insurers stand to lose unspeakable profit should a single-payer system ever be legislated into existence.

Nevertheless, polling has suggested a majority of Americans want just such a system. This shouldn’t be a surprise either: America’s largely corporate-run health-care regime is an overly bureaucratized morass that privileges private profit over public good and allows thousands of people to die needlessly every year (while bankrupting many thousands more in the process).

With Medicare for All (M4A) gaining political traction, both pundits and leading Democratic politicians have increasingly sought to muddy the waters — serving up a dizzying mix of ideological evasiveness and outright falsehood to call the viability of universal public health insurance into question.

Last month’s two presidential primary debates were a case in point, with many Democratic contenders espousing vague support for the principle of universality while also vowing to maintain the very for-profit insurance system a truly universal model would seek to replace.

Chief among the problems found throughout the candidates’ various statements was an oft-repeated “choice” framing — misleadingly implying a vast constituency of citizens who are passionately in love with private insurance industry behemoths and the expensive plans they sell for a profit.

A few examples from both debates:

John Hickenlooper: “You can’t expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many of whom don’t want to give it up.”

John Delaney: “We need to put forth ideas that work, whether it’s on health care, creating universal health care so that every American gets health care, but not running on making private insurance illegal.”

Amy Klobuchar: “I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years.”

Beto O’Rourke: “I think that choice is — is fundamental to our ability . . . to get everybody cared for.”

Michael Bennett: “I believe the way to do that is by finishing the work we started with Obamacare and creating a public option that every family and every person in America can make a choice for their family about whether they want a public option, which for them would be like having Medicare for all or whether they want to keep their private insurance.”

These claims are misleading for several reasons. For one thing, under the current system — where millions receive insurance via their employers — people are already forced off their existing plans all the time when they are fired or arbitrarily compelled to switch plans by their boss.

For another, while many people understandably form close bonds with particular doctors or medical providers, it’s simply a myth that the average person feels the same affection for their insurance company — an often distant and occasionally hostile bureaucracy they likely associate with soul-crushing paperwork and unwanted bills.

Nevertheless, the same bogus “choice” frame — implying an adoring constituency for private insurance companies — has continued to make regular appearances in both mainstream political discourse and media coverage surrounding health care and ongoing pushes toward a single-payer system.

Despite the insurance industry’s efforts to conflate health and insurance providers, however, recent polling strongly suggests that majority opinion regarding M4A is a lot less complicated than some people would have us believe. As summarized by Morning Consult:

According to a Morning Consult/Politico survey conducted after the first Democratic presidential primary debates, support among voters for Medicare for All falls to 46 percent from 53 percent when respondents are told the government-run health system would diminish the role of private insurers — but rises back to 55 percent when voters learn that losing their private plans would still allow them to keep their preferred doctors and hospitals.

Put another way, a majority of Americans support Medicare for All when it is described to them accurately and without the misleading spin of self-interested insurance industry lobbyists attached.

No more excuses. Every Democrat who really believes health care is a human right should follow Bernie Sanders’s lead and campaign for it unequivocally and unapologetically.

Anything else means capitulation to the profiteers of the insurance industry and their lies.