The false choice over “Medicare for All”

Taken from Politico

September 23, 2019

By Randi Weingarten, President, AFT

Ask any voter in the country today and they’ll tell you that health care is top of mind. In other developed countries, health care is a basic human right, but in the United States, it’s a commodity—a highly profitable one for the health insurance industry. In the second quarter of last year alone, the top 85 publicly traded health insurance companies raked in a record $47 billion in profits. At the same time, the number of Americans covered by insurance is actually falling.

It shouldn’t be this way. A majority of Americans believe in guaranteed access to affordable, high-quality health insurance for everyone and want it to be a part of the basic social contract like Social Security. It’s likely that only the government can provide something on that scale; that’s the genesis for many of the 2020 Democratic candidates’ “Medicare for All” types of plans, which aim to phase out private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan that offers care to everyone. Some of the candidates argue for different versions of the plan that preserve a role for commercial insurance—plans people get through their jobs or the individual marketplace—but expand a public option, that is, a government-run plan to cover anyone who needs or wants it.

Pitting these ideas against each other is a false choice. It’s a fear tactic sowed by defenders of corporate greed meant to divide us and make us think that high-quality universal coverage—be it public, private or some combination thereof—is out of reach, even in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

Like many other labor leaders, I have sat across a bargaining table and negotiated many benefits packages for educators, nurses and public employees, so I know what is and isn’t true. Some working people have good health care plans through their jobs, many don’t. If we reduce this debate to a zero-sum trade-off between protecting people who like their insurance vs. expanding insurance to those who might want or need a public plan, we have handed a win directly to the corporate insurance giants before we even start.

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