OP-ED: Why we can’t wait for Medicare-for-All | Pittsburgh City Paper

OP-ED: Why we can’t wait for Medicare-for-All

Since March, we, DNC delegates and Pittsburghers, have seen lines for our food banks miles long. Our main street shops have been shuttered and offered little relief. We’ve heard the cries of our frontline workers, begging for adequate PPE. In Pennsylvania alone, more than a million of our neighbors have filed for unemployment that has taken weeks, if not months, to arrive. For many, the loss of a job comes with the loss of health care during a global public-health crisis.

This pandemic has laid bare the inequalities that were already so pervasive in our society.

This is why we have all voted NO on the Democratic Party’s proposed platform because it failed to call for Medicare-for-All. We cannot continue to settle for a broken, expensive, profit-driven, employer-based health-care system that leaves so many people uninsured and under-insured, while millions are out of work and battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States is a global anomaly among wealthy nations: we do not guarantee health care. Instead, American health care is generally tied to one’s employer, resulting in a system that is one of the most expensive in the world with worse outcomes. Medicare-for-All would replace that outdated and expensive relic with a system that would provide all Americans with comprehensive coverage free at the point of service, replacing expensive premiums and other costs with progressive taxes that would have the rich pay their fair share toward national health coverage.

Tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance, and many more are under-insured. And these numbers are growing rapidly as the country has experienced months of massive layoffs and firing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennsylvania alone had already shed about 1 million jobs by April. Even for those lucky enough to have insurance, out-of-pocket costs and premiums are exorbitantly expensive — in fact, medical bills are the top cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Millions of Americans are an illness or injury away from economic ruin.

American health care is more expensive than our global peers’ systems: we spend much more as a percent of our national GDP — 20% — and more per person than every other major country on the planet. Despite those steep costs, we get lousier health outcomes and a higher infant mortality rate than countries that do not bankrupt their people just for seeking care when sick or having a baby, especially in Black and Brown communities.

This system has been a disaster for Americans. We pay too much for inadequate care — if you can afford care at all — while risking financial ruin if you’re unlucky enough to get the wrong diagnosis or have the gall to want to start a family. It is obscene to send Americans into bankruptcy for medical bills, all while health insurer and pharmaceutical company executives rake in massive profits in our dysfunctional health care system.

Luckily, some Democrats have known a better way for decades. As far back as the New Deal, Democrats have called for universal health care, and President Harry Truman even proposed such a plan in 1945 and successfully campaigned on the plan during his 1948 reelection. Medicare-for-All ought to be central to the identity of the Democratic Party today, when millions are battling unemployment and sickness during this pandemic.

Medicare-for-All would eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for Americans: no more premiums, co-pays, or deductibles. It would also end the grotesque practice of surprise billing and the ever-evolving lists of in- and out-of-network doctors accepted by insurers. And because Medicare-for-All would end the connection between employers and health care, Americans would no longer need to fear that speaking up on the job or demanding safer workplaces might mean an end to their family’s health coverage.

But the anti-universal coverage crowd — often bankrolled by private insurers and pharmaceutical companies content with the status quo — regularly scaremongers by arguing that Americans will lose choice under Medicare-for-All. Such a ploy is an illusion. Most American workers do not have any say over which plans their employers offer, or which doctors are in-network for those plans, or how those things may change each year. Nor can they control the ever-growing premiums that employers pass on to workers along with massive out-of-pocket costs. Moreover, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, funding Medicare-for-All with progressive taxes would result in a substantial tax cut for the majority of American workers who would pay far less under the plan than they currently do through premiums and other costs.

Medicare-for-All is urgently needed, and Democrats would be wise to campaign heavily for the popular policy. In fact, a poll from this spring showed that 69% of Americans support the proposal. This is a smart policy, a just and humane policy, and one that ought to be central to the identity of the modern Democratic Party.

Together, we are committed to ending the presidency of Donald Trump and electing Joe Biden. Once elected, we will push the Biden/Harris administration just as hard to ensure universal health care becomes a reality in this country and to make our laws recognize that health care is a human right. The American people deserve nothing less.
The authors are all Pittsburgh-area delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and include Corey Buckner, Chris Deluzio, Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee, Jake Pawlak, and Anita Prizio.