Rampell: The appeal of ‘Medicare for all’


Despite the rise of the tea party and unified Republican control of government, one decidedly anti-free-market idea appears ascendant: single-payer health care.

And it’s no wonder, given that a record-high share of the population receives government-provided health insurance. As a country, we’ve long since acquiesced to the idea that Uncle Sam should give insurance to the elderly, veterans, people with disabilities, poor adults, poor kids, pregnant women and the lower middle class.

Many Americans are asking: Why not the rest of us, too?

A recent survey from the Economist/YouGov found that a majority of Americans support “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.” Similarly, a poll from Morning Consult/Politico showed that a plurality of voters support “a single-payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan.”

Divining the longer-term trend in attitudes is difficult, as the way survey questions on the topic are asked has changed over time. Calling it “Medicare for all,” for example, generally elicits much stronger approval, while emphasizing the word “government” tends to depress support.

But some survey questions that have remained consistent in recent years show support has been rising for the broader idea that the federal government bears responsibility for making sure all Americans have coverage.

Since 1987, the share of Americans who receive some sort of public insurance has roughly doubled, to about 4 in 10 as of 2015. That’s not counting the people who receive subsidies to buy private insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Expansions of government coverage have been cheered by many liberals, but they also have bred suspicion and jealousy.

In both the recent YouGov and Morning Consult polls, the age group most opposed to single-payer was the only one that basically already has it: those 65 and up. In other words, single-payer for me but not for thee.

Seniors are probably worried that expanding coverage to more Americans could put their own generous benefits at risk.

Many of those outside the growing pool of public-insurance beneficiaries, on the other hand, have become resentful of the fact that everyone else seems to be getting a big fat government handout. Or so they perceive.

Often what Trump voters say they want is not a return to pre-Obamacare days; rather, they want in on the great insurance deal that they think their lazy, less-deserving neighbors are getting.

In fact, that recent YouGov poll found that 40 percent of Trump voters support Medicare for all. Among Republicans overall, the share rises to 46 percent.

Among politicians, attitudes are somewhat different.

Expansion costs a lot, which doesn’t exactly jibe with the GOP’s tax-cutting agenda. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his compatriots seem to further believe — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the private sector is on the verge of some innovation that will magically reduce costs and give all Americans the coverage and care they yearn for.

But even Democrats don’t have the stomach for the battle required to replace our system with single-payer. Which is understandable — while I also favor universal health-insurance coverage, I’m skeptical it will be achieved through single-payer, given both the state of our political process and Americans’ cultural allergy to tax hikes.

Even so, somewhere out there, Bernie Sanders is smiling.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: What should we fight for?

“We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” declaimed Rex Tillerson last week in Vienna. “Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.” Tillerson’s principled rejection of the seizure of land by military force &mdash...
COMMENTARY: Alabama, sweet home of progress

Alabama. Who knew it would become one of the most beautiful words in American politics? It turns out there could have been no better place to test the limits of indecency, the limits of Trumpism, the limits of Republican partisanship and, yes, the limits of racial subjugation. If the angry ideology of the far right cannot make it in one of our most...
Opinion: For the holidays, pull a tooth or save a life

Happy holidays! In the spirit of the season, here’s a suggestion: Instead of inflicting a garish tie on your brother or a carcinogenic face cream on your aunt, how about saving a life? It’s time for my annual “gifts with meaning” guide, with suggestions for presents that won’t just clog a chest of drawers. Consider a $20...
Opinion: Let’s liberate blacks from harmful left-wing politics

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows yet another perspective on the deep racial division in our country. According to the poll, 86 percent of blacks compared to 50 percent of whites say that President Trump does not “respect people of color as much as he respects white people.” However the partisan divide is even greater than the racial...
Letters Educating children is every taxpayer’s concern
Letters Educating children is every taxpayer’s concern

Educating children is everyone’s concern This is a response to the letter-writer who feels that we seniors shouldn’t have to pay school taxes because we don’t have children in school: I gladly paid school taxes on Long Island, New York, after my children were grown and before retiring to Boynton Beach. Why? Because my children&rsquo...
More Stories