The battle over the future of American healthcare is being waged from coast to coast. One of the most important fronts in that battle is the internal struggle within the Democratic Party between those who support a single payer, Medicare for All system, and those who continue to prop up the corporate health insurance industry that profits off the illnesses of the American people. One of the key agents of the healthcare industry it is efforts to preserve the status quo is Long Island’s Tom Suozzi. This second-term Congressman has recently found his way on to the powerful Ways and Means committee, perhaps the most pivotal committee on this particular issue.
Suozzi, whose top lifetime donor is a medical supply company, has claimed to support the idea of single payer in the past. In fact, he has even signed a pledge to sponsor or co-sponsor single payer legislation when Democrats retake Congress. However, over the last three years, he has used his town halls to gaslight supporters of single payer and convince his Democratic constituents not to pursue this policy. In doing so, Suozzi has been parroting health insurance industry talking points. Not coincidentally, he has also been a huge recipient of health insurance industry money. A recent report in Gritpost showed that he received just over $200,000 in political donations (legalized bribes) since 2015, when he announced his first run for Congress. While there are others who received even more than Suozzi, very few members of Congress have received as much in such a short period of time.
This, in essence, makes Tom Suozzi an agent of the healthcare industry. Thus, his role at his town halls is to “sell” the status quo to the public and prevent a full uprising. The fear of uprising on this issue is a very real one because the Democratic base overwhelming supports Medicare for all. In fact, a recent poll shows that 91% of Democratic voters think it is important (75% said it was “very important”) that the presidential candidate support “Providing health insurance for all Americans through the government, a plan sometimes called ‘Medicare for all’”. Only “taking aggressive action” against climate change polled higher. Other polls have shown Democratic support for Medicare for all around the 85% range, while also showing strong support among Independent voters and roughly half of Republican voters. Thus, when the health insurance industry gives $43 million to the 129 House Democrats that oppose single payer, they are doing it not only to defeat the legislation but also to use those members of Congress to convince voters to lower their expectations about healthcare.
Suozzi’s go-to line when asked about this policy comes straight out of the lobbyist playbook. He claims that 70% of folks with private insurance like their plans. This is a highly misleading statement based on a, AHIP poll from 2018. The poll says that 70% are “satisfied,” which is a very different word than “happy.” The way a polling question is worded can have a huge impact on the results. For example, when this Gallop poll, asked people if they were satisfied with the cost of their health insurance, only 51% said they were satisfied. People tend to mix up their feelings about their health coverage (insurance) and their actual healthcare (the doctors they see). Additionally, because a huge number of Americans have no health insurance coverage at all, it’s very likely that those being polled were thinking in terms of how satisfied they are with their insurance as compared to the most likely alternative in the United States, which is having no insurance at all! Additionally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau only 56% of Americans have employer-based private health insurance. So even if 70% of them were satisfied with their insurance, that still only encompasses 40% of the total population. It is also worth noting that the satisfaction numbers for the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid are higher than any private health insurers, which is fairly strong evidence that most Americans would be even more satisfied under a Medicare for All system than is the case today with employer-based private insurance.
Another recent poll makes it very hard to believe that such a large number of Americans are actually “satisfied” with their private healthcare. This poll showed that roughly 60% of Americans blame the insurance companies for the extremely high healthcare costs in America. Around 40% claimed to have difficulty paying their medical bills. Roughly 20 to 25% reported putting off major purchases and increasing credit card debt to pay their medical bills. Over half said they put off or skipped needed care because of cost. It is hard to square these responses to very specific health insurance questions with the data from the very vague AHIP poll Suozzi likes to mention.
While basing his argument on one AHIP poll, he is quick to dismiss polling that illustrated how popular Medicare for All is. Congressman Suozzi likes to point out that when the questions of Medicare for All is asked and includes the phrase “will increase your taxes,” the polling numbers drop. Of course, it should not be shocking that polling numbers drop when the question is framed in the most negative and misleading way. These negatively framed polls of course do not bring up several key points that might make a big difference in the results, such as the fact that this new tax would replace monthly premiums, copays, and deductibles. It would also include all drug prescriptions. The most recent plans include a wide variety of other services, such as vision, hearing, and long term care, all of which would be free at the point of service. Because this program would be based on a graduated income tax and many costs would be drastically reduced due to the removal of the profit motive, the vast majority of Americans (roughly 95%) would be paying less than they are now. Does any polling ask the questions this way?
Poll after poll reveals that there is a huge disparity between the support for Medicare for All among the Democratic Party voters and the Democratic Party elected officials, like Tom Suozzi. Less than half of Congressional Democrats have cosponsored the Medicare for All legislation despite a clear majority of Democratic voters wanting it. This begs the question: just who, exactly, are these elected Democrats working for? This headline from GritPost gives us a pretty big hint as to the answer.