Top Democrats support Single Payer Healthcare

But the Party still remains a roadblock

National Nurses United members and their supporters march in New York City for single-payer health care on January 15, 2017. (Michael Nigro / Sipa via AP Images)

Single payer has been an increasingly important staple of the progressive movement that more and more voters want passed by the day. While there are mixed studies in regards to a majority of Americans supporting single payer since the Harry Truman era, there definitely has been an important cultural shift toward supporting the idea of universal health care.There was a study done by Pew Research in June for example that indicates rising public support for single payer since 2014. Where there is popular public support however, there’s a high chance it wont’t resonate well with congress.

With Republicans determined to eviscerate as many Obamacare provisions as they can, and the country being more favorable to the concept of single payer, now is the time for the Democrats to strike while the iron is hot. And that is what Bernie Sanders has done recently. He will bring forward a medicare for all bill to congress when they convene in September, and up until now 4 top Democrats have supported single payer: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Corey Booker and now Kamala Harris.

As you may have heard recently, Kamala Harris has announced she will run for president in 2020, and since the announcement of the ‘Better Deal’ by the Democratic Party leadership, progressives are still clamoring for more populist efforts to fix America’s ailing economy and healthcare system. She made the shock announcement last Wednesday on 30th August in a church meeting at Oakland, California to her constituents:

Kamala Harris speaks with reporters following a town hall in Oakland, California. Matt Tinoco
“There’s no question that … all people should have access to affordable health care, and as we talk about moving toward a single-payer system, I think there is certainly energy and momentum toward that,’’ Harris told reporters. “Americans are making very clear when they defeated the repeal” of the Affordable Care Act “that they don’t want to play politics with their health care.”

It’s important to note in mind that Harris is the first senate Democrat to publicly co-sponsor Sanders’ upcoming medicare-for-all bill. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker stated they support it without backing Sanders’ bill. The base supports single payer, an increasing number of conservative voters support it and a majority of House Democrats have now co-sponsored the single payer bill that Rep. John Conyers has introduced annually for more than a decade. Besides Trump however, the Democratic establishment also presents an ever present obstacle.

House Democrats on Affordable Care Act Replacement Bill Passage

Earlier this year, Nancy Pelosi rejected single payer even being added to the Democratic Party platform. This was one of Bernie Sander’s most popular legislative proposals during the campaign, in which Hilary Clinton said single payer will never come to pass. Obamacare after all, while popular, still leaves around 20 million uninsured. In an Observer article, they comment on the bitter fight between the progressive base and the Democratic establishment surrounding single payer:

“Their failure to support a proposal that the majority of their base wants illuminates the growing disconnect between elected officials and their constituents and the massive influence of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Americans want single payer health care, and the obstacles blocking them from the system they want are special interests, which are bought and paid for Democrats in office who avoid taking principled stances on issues. Democrats like Pelosi don’t stand for anything because fighting for something like single payer health care would upset the party’s wealthy donors.”

Then there are other long-time career Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein who also do not support single payer, which would put her at further odds with Kamala Harris since they both represent California. In a town hall meeting she conducted a few months ago in San Francisco, she does not support a “total takeover” of healthcare by the government. The crowd naturally responded with boos and jeers, one even calling her a sellout. Nevertheless, she is a powerhouse when it comes to raising campaign funds, in particular, from the healthcare lobby.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein holds a town meeting at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center

She went to a fundraising event of a lobbying firm that represents major sectors of the healthcare industry earlier this year, and as we know, creating single payer government run healthcare would mean under 65’s are no longer forced to buy private insurer policies.

The healthcare industry still remains a major part of the problem, as they maintain a lot of purchasing power in Washington. In 2016 alone, the health insurance industry made an average contribution of nearly $50,000 to house Democrats, and $82,000 to senate Democrats. One noteworthy example of late detailing how corporate influence is essentially blocking single payer from passing was illustrated by California’s recent attempts to enact it. It being the largest state in America naturally garnered a lot of attention.

Nurses take to the streets for single-payer health care in California (Healthy California | Facebook)

In June, the SB-562 bill, also known as Healthy California, aimed to provide a medicare-for-all service to California, and had actually passed in the Senate — until Anthony Rendon, speaker of California's Assembly blocked the proposal and took it off the table. Critics, including himself, cited the large costs required to maintain it, but experts estimated that costs would be lower due to savings made on lower admin costs and pharmaceuticals, in addition to health care spending already being covered by additional public programs.

But what may have killed it (for now at least, as hearings will be held soon to discuss further options) is of course the healthcare lobby. According to the International Business Times, they contributed a lot to the key players surrounding this fight:

“Since the 2010 election, the 24 lawmakers on the two California legislative committees that will consider the single-payer legislation have collectively received more than $819,000 in donations from the industry groups that are officially opposing the measure….
In addition to the cash that has flowed to the individual legislators from corporate groups opposing the legislation, California’s Democratic and Republican parties received more than $2.2 million from the same groups in the last four election cycles. House Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President Kevin De Leon and Gov. Jerry Brown, all Democrats, have also separately received a combined $370,000 from the groups. Brown recently expressed skepticism about the single-payer legislation.”

Despite levels of funding dropping for the Democratic Party, single payer healthcare is nonetheless an issue Democrats still do not seem to capitulate to. There has been some movement towards progressing it largely thanks to Bernie Sander’s continuous push to raise awareness about it, and frankly that’s the most important thing we can do at this stage. Whether or not Kamala Harris is genuine about single payer or being pragmatic, since everyone knows, even Bernie himself, that the bill won’t get passed (and her recent statements on it raise further questions), this fight is one that will not go away.

With Trumpcare dead on arrival, and support for single payer is growing, Democrats need to start pushing for it as a genuine group collective and campaigning for it everyday, rather than just ‘support’ the idea of it and then tout the need to continue to protect and expand obamacare. If they really want to win the 2018 and 2020 elections, or rather, even stand a chance in them, they need to decide between either courting their corporate donors, promoting the need to be ‘pragmatic’ and implementing incremental changes to a broken system, or be the party that listens to the outcry of millions of Americans and provide with them with the healthcare they deserve.

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