ASCH: Push for ‘Medicare for All’ ruins Democrats’ momentum on healthcare

It is time to reexamine our priorities for healthcare reform


Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a “Medicare for All” bill in the U.S. Senate.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

In the past few weeks, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., following through on a key policy in his platform, introduced a “Medicare for All” bill in the U.S. Senate. Sander’s single-payer plan would expand Medicare in stages so it eventually pays for everyone’s coverage and eliminates private insurance companies. This idea was a long-shot the last time Sanders introduced it in the Senate, seeing as it had zero co-sponsors. Now, many in the Democratic caucus are supporting it. By doing this, Senate Democrats, many of whom are considered presidential hopefuls, are making a political calculation to help them appeal to Sanders’ supporters. While it is certainly comforting that many Democrats seem eager to jump into the ring for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, this is an industry which is in desperate need of reform. By going all in on a single-payer plan, Democrats are ignoring ways to reform Obamacare, which is still incredibly vulnerable. 

One of the big issues with the push for “Medicare for All” is that the bill itself does not address the exorbitant costs of our current Medicare system. Already, the United States pays more for healthcare per person than other similar nations. By providing Medicare for all, we would just be extending an unsustainable program to more people. Instead of trying to expand Medicare, we should try to fix it so it is cheaper. Some reforms could include emphasizing on preventative care, and moving away from the fee for service model toward one that pays for quality of care, making the program more affordable. Instead of talking about ways to reform Medicare, politicians seem perfectly content with jumping on the bandwagon so they can prove their “liberal” bona-fides. Medicare is an imperfect program which needs reform — much like Obamacare — so it is unwise to sell it as a solution to all our healthcare problems.

After the defeat of the Republican healthcare bills, there seemed to be real momentum toward creating a bipartisan fix for the Affordable Care Act. There was hope that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, could hold hearings and come up with a bipartisan fix. There was also hope that a bipartisan plan to stabilize the healthcare markets created by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) could be enacted into law. The mere existence of these bipartisan plans to fix Obamacare shows that there was momentum to fix the law. Instead, Democrats have wasted much of this opportunity by spending so much time on single-payer.

Evidence of the decreased momentum to shore up Obamacare is exemplified by the recent state of bipartisan Healthcare reform. The push to create healthcare reform in the Senate HELP committee fell apart and the plan proposed by the governors has not received sufficient consideration. While “Medicare for All” was gaining co-sponsors, the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill was also picked up steam. This bill, which turns healthcare over to the states by giving them block grants for their own programs, sounds interesting in theory. But in reality money given to the states to subsidize these programs would be cut substantially and regulations that have extended care to so many can be eviscerated in these state programs. The emergence of this bill, in place of a bipartisan solution is proof that much of the time Democrats had to improve the Affordable Care Act has been squandered. Now that the Graham-Cassidy Bill has been defeated, it is time for bipartisan plans to be examined. Democrats should capitalize on the most recent healthcare defeat to make meaningful progress on this issue.

If the push for “Medicare for All” continues, we will miss another opportunity to improve healthcare for many under Obamacare. The whole single-payer proposal is an exercise in futility because there is no possible way for it to become law at this point. In the short-term, fixing Obamacare should be the priority, and Democratic leaders should spend their time pushing for it. When talk of socialized medicine makes horrible legislation like Graham-Cassidy come close reality, it is imperative we take a step back and reexamine our priorities. The point of healthcare reform is to try to help people, and the only way to do it is through bipartisan reform that will eventually lead us to universal and affordable coverage. If Democrats don’t drop single-payer and offer realistic and practical solutions, they will become just like the fringe of the right-wing, pandering to their base for votes while leaving the truly needy behind. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at

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