Opinion: Instead of wars and walls, how about ‘Medicare for all’?

Anthony Erhardt

In today’s political climate, I find myself feeling powerless, fatigued and ready to give up on activism.

I know this is a feeling many peers and fellow activists know all too well, especially when President Donald Trump seems hell-bent on destroying all the progress we made over the last eight years under former President Barack Obama simply to spite his legacy.

I can only speak for myself, but thankfully this hopeless feeling is only temporary, and I will hear a speech, remember a quote or attend a political event and immediately be reinvigorated with energy, optimism and a sense of duty.

These past few weeks, as I lamented the president’s decision to rescind DACA and force 800,000 innocent “Dreamers” back into the shadows, I turned to a source of inspiration that never fails to lift my spirits: the words of John F. Kennedy, our 35th president.

The particular speech I listened to was given by Kennedy on May 20, 1962, before a packed audience at Madison Square Garden.

The topic of the speech? Health care.

More specifically, JFK advocated for a nationalized health care plan that would later come to fruition as Medicare.

The president was pushing back on frequent accusations that he was a communist for advocating for socialized medicine.

Coincidentally, that same week of my reminiscing, Sen. Bernie Sanders — whom I proudly voted for in the Democratic primary and would do so again — introduced his long-awaited “Medicare for all” bill to Congress. Unlike when the senator introduced a similar bill in 2013, this time he had some major co-sponsors: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley and Kamala Harris.

I was amazed and overwhelmed with pride at the same time. The two wings of the Democratic Party were unifying around a major issue and showing solidarity.

I was damn proud to be a Democrat that day and even more proud of the courage displayed by Booker, Gillibrand, Warren, Merkley and Harris for supporting Sanders’ proposal.

Unfortunately, just as Kennedy faced back in 1962, Sanders and his colleagues are facing an intense amount of propaganda, fear mongering and misinformation from their opponents in the Republican Party, because wanting every citizen of your country to have health care obviously means you want the government to take over your entire life and put you before a death panel, right?

Yep, no slippery slope or straw man logical fallacies at play there.  

For those of you who aren’t convinced, either on the right or left, about signing on to single-payer, allow me to make my argument for it. First, some facts about our current health care system:

According to a 2009 study from the American Journal of Public Health, 45,000 people die annually due to lack of health insurance. Furthermore, as verified by Politifact, the United States is the only wealthy country in the OECD that doesn’t provide universal health care coverage.

The Congressional Budget Office, the New York Times and FactCheck.org all found the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” has succeeded in slowing the growing cost of health care and insured nearly 20 million Americans, which lowered the uninsured rate to below a historic 10 percent and contains several broadly popular provisions, such as not denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Fun fact: The individual mandate portion of the “Obamacare” was originally crafted by a conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in the 1990s as a response to Hillary Clinton’s single-payer health care plan and was first implemented — successfully, mind you — by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

Last, the U.S. already tacitly supports guaranteeing health care as a right. In 1986, former President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

The law mandated hospitals treat all citizens regardless of their ability to pay, their citizenship or legal status. Remember in 2012 when a GOP debate audience cheered the concept of letting someone without health care die outside a hospital?

Well, legally you can’t do that. Thanks, Reagan!

The biggest attack levied against single-payer, or really any health care initiative, is that it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it and Democrats are just a bunch of socialists and communists trying to give away free stuff and make people dependent on the government.

To borrow a phrase from former Vice President Joe Biden: “That’s a bunch of malarkey.”

I find it funny the same people who are content spending $1.6 trillion on unsustainable and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or $21.6 billion on a big, dumb wall along the Mexican border think providing health care to all of our citizens is too much of a financial burden.

Instead of wars and walls, how about “Medicare for all”? Not to mention in the long term, single-payer health care is actually cost-efficient.

According to the Washington Post, the price tag for universal health care is $32 trillion over the next 10 years. At first glance, that seems like an enormous amount of money, but what most detractors fail to take into account is the net savings concurrent to that $32 trillion figure. The National Healthcare Expenditure estimates we spend $3.2 trillion, or $9,990 per person, per year on both public and private health care.

A study titled ”National Healthcare Expenditures, 2016-25: Price Increases, Aging Push Sector To 20 Percent Of Economy” found that national health costs in the United States are projected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent from 2016-25. Considering this growth rate over 10 years, adding up the costs shows our current health care system will cost $49 trillion.

Doing some quick math: $49 trillion (current system) — $32 trillion (single-payer) = $17 trillion in savings. 

Also, logically, single-payer would eliminate premiums, copays and most deductibles associated with private insurance, thus decreasing the annual cost to middle-class Americans.

The final reason for supporting “Medicare for all” is Medicare remains extremely popular.

Support for single-payer health care has been growing among the public and becoming mainstream among Democrats. Thirty-three percent of Americans support single-payer health insurance — up 12 points from 2014 — along with 52 percent of Democrats. I encourage everyone to read about Senator Sanders’ proposal, what it contains and its efficacy to make their own decisions.

The bottom line is I don’t think there should be a profit motive in health care when people’s lives are literally hanging in the balance.

I don’t think health care should be a luxury for the few that are rich and not the many that are poor. I don’t think in the wealthiest country on Earth, and supposedly the greatest, that any citizen should die from lack of health care coverage.

My faith and values are what inform my ideology — I’m a humanist. I believe in collectivism and looking out for fellow members of our species. There is no care, no empathy and no morality in a system that denies someone health care based on socioeconomic status.

Like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, I consider fighting for universal health care coverage for every American as the cause of my life. Because of Kennedy, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act, the protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a higher minimum wage and countless other laws that have helped millions of Americans.

Thus, I find it appropriate to end with a quote by him that reminds me why I fight for the issues I care about and why I’m confident we will one day achieve Ted’s and my dream: “For me this is a season of hope, new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many, and not just for the few — new hope. And this is the cause of my life — new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American — North, South, East, West, young, old — will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

Anthony Erhardt is a guest columnist and former president of the Kent State College Democrats. Contact him at [email protected].