On March 24, the Republican Party’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act fell apart due to moderates’ and conservatives’ inability to agree on the contents the bill. In the first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency, health care has emerged as one of the most important and politically polarizing issues. Democrats have used successfully utilized the issue to cast the Republican Party in a poor light. While the Republican Party is persistent in repealing the Affordable Care Act, most Americans have grown weary with the American health care system’s flaws, the pharmaceutical industry’s greed, and the profit-fueled health insurance industry.
A 2016 poll found that most Americans support creating a federally funded national health care system, and one of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ most popular proposals during his presidential campaign was to create a single-payer health care system. Calls for such a system have been increasing among progressives, who demand that the Democratic Party counter the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a proposal that would provide affordable health care to all Americans.
During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on March 24, Sanders, the outreach chair of the Democratic Party, announced that he will re-introduce a single-payer health care bill. “We have got to have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move forward to a Medicare-for-all single-payer program. I will be introducing legislation shortly to do that.”
The Democratic Party has been apprehensive in supporting a Medicare-for-all health care bill because several establishment Democrats are supported by campaign donations from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. In 2009, despite Democrats having a majority in both houses of Congress during former President Barack Obama’s first two years in the White House, Democratic leadership settled on a “middle ground” for the Affordable Care Act that appeased the health insurance industry. The New York Times reported in May 2009, “President Obama campaigned on a promise to create a public plan, in an effort to compete with private insurers and keep them honest. But insurance companies and Republican lawmakers say a government-run plan could drive private insurers out of business and eventually lead to a single-payer system run by the government.” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer introduced a proposal that appeased these critics and gave the private health insurance industry the leverage they wanted over the market.
“The problem that both Republicans and Democrats have is that people have a heightened awareness of the issue and are now demanding health care and not health insurance,” said RoseAnn Demoro, executive director of the National Nurses Union, in an interview with the Observer. “The ACA was not affordable, but that’s what we ended up with, even though the Democrats had Congress and the presidency. The power of the insurance industry over both of these parties is striking and now exposed. The Democrats sold people short of what was needed—Medicare for all—and that’s part of the rift in that party. Now, the Republicans’ narrative is how to harm the people more or how to cover them without regulation or cost.”
Both political parties are feeling the pressure from the public to improve health care. The Republicans’ proposal would kick 24 million people off Obamacare while providing an estimated annual tax break of $7 million for the 400-highest income households in the country. Demoro added, “The issue has divided both parties, but the demands of the people are pretty clear. [Speaker Paul Ryan] doesn’t want a society where we take care of our own, but rather one gigantic market. Trump has seen the success of single-payer for his own businesses overseas and has tried to finesse his cowering to extreme right forces.” Indeed, Trump has previously praised and called for universal health care and a single-payer system. “That contradiction is irreconcilable,” Demoro concludes.