AFT and Medicare for All

Randi Weingarten
Sep 27 · 3 min read

This was submitted as a letter to the editor of Jacobin magazine.

In his Sept. 26 Jacobin article — “Why Is Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten Attacking Medicare for All?” — AFT member Ben Curttright says he was upset and disappointed by my advocacy for universal healthcare coverage as well as my effort to lift up all of the 2020 Democratic candidates’ proposals to expand coverage. He wants me simply and exclusively to champion “Medicare for All.”

It’s Ben’s right to champion Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, and I am supportive of AFT members fighting for diverse viewpoints and positions. We agree that we must make healthcare a basic, universal human right — a right that too many people are still living without — which is what I argued for in my op-ed with which he takes issue. But where Ben and I differ is that I don’t believe there is just one way to get there. The conversation about how to provide that access to healthcare is an important one, but asserting that every progressive in America wants an immediate and permanent transition to one public system is inaccurate.

I argued for Medicare for all as a floor, not a ceiling, with a role if people want for private insurance. This exists right now for people like my father who is on Medicare, but still maintains my mother’s private supplemental insurance.

In concept, health insurance is supposed to lower the cost of care and expand coverage — not increase profits for insurance companies, big pharma and hospitals. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked that way, and Medicare for All is one way to fix the concept, but it’s not the only way. The point is to get to universal coverage, and to stop the prohibitive costs that keep prescription drugs and healthcare out of reach for too many people.

AFT President Randi Weingarten speaking in favor of Medicare For All at the introduction of the bill in early 2019.

It’s clear this issue is top of mind for many voters in the 2020 presidential primary, including AFT members — educators, public employees and healthcare professionals. As we consider which candidate to support this election cycle, it’s important to note that the AFT has embarked on a very different process — one that puts member engagement front and center. Through that engagement, at town halls and in face-to-face meetings, members have routinely raised their concerns about how to get to universal healthcare coverage. They decry the stranglehold and price gouging by big pharma, hospitals and insurance companies, but many also fear the loss of insurance in a too-quick transition to one public plan.

So far, the AFT’s 2020 endorsement process has yielded unprecedented involvement and remarkably positive feedback from members, and we are proud to be leading with inclusion, not division. It’s wonderful to see members like Ben engaged in the fight for all working families, but the goal for us as a union remains finding a standard-bearer who fights for universal coverage, without using right-wing fear tactics to divide progressives on the issue of healthcare.

Randi Weingarten

Written by

American Federation of Teachers president, committed to improving schools, hospitals and public institutions for children, families and communities.

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