Conyers: Medicare For All’s Time Has Come

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Above Photo: Replace ACA with Medicare for All. Photo from FOX13 Salt Lake City

I’m as happy as anyone with the way the Republicans’ plan to wreck our healthcare system crashed and burned last week. And President Donald Trump is right: Republicans lost because Democrats beat them. We beat them because we were organized, we were unified and we were backed by unprecedented grassroots energy. Members of the U.S. Congress hosted dozens of rallies, advocacy organizations hosted hundreds more and constituents showed up in overwhelming numbers at town halls across this country to make their voices heard.

And what exactly was their message? One of the most poignant moments came at a town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, where a constituent explained her opposition to the GOP bill using faith. As a Christian, she said, her faith was rooted in helping the unfortunate, not cutting taxes on the rich, so why not expand Medicaid and allow everyone to have insurance? And she’s not alone. Last week, a Quinnipiac survey found that voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Medicaid — 74% of them — including 54% among Republicans.

Given the record high support for publicly funded healthcare, economists, policy experts and commentators everywhere have called on the Democratic party to build on our momentum by supporting a single payer system. But perhaps the most convincing case I heard came from Jessi Bohan, the teacher from Cookeville, Tennessee who spoke at Rep. Black’s town hall.

U. S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. attends the HelpBuy Photo
(Photo: Jessica J. Trevino Detroit Free Press)

The week after her question went viral she wrote to the Washington Post that she was troubled to see her comments used as a “defense of Obamacare” instead of what they were: an indictment of any healthcare policy that leaves anyone out. As Bohan so eloquently put it, “it is immoral for health care to be a for-profit enterprise” that allows insurance companies to make “enormous sums of money off the sick while people are struggling to pay their medical bills.” If she had it to do over again, she wrote, she would have explained to Black “the Christian case for universal, single-payer health insurance, which would protect all Americans.”

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While her message was targeted at Republicans, it is one that many of my colleagues in the Democratic Party need to hear as well. For two weeks, I’ve watched Democrats point to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Paul Ryan bill and express righteous outrage that it would lead to 24 million Americans losing their insurance. But that same CBO score says that 28 million Americans will still be without insurance even under the Affordable Care Act. I’m impressed that the ACA has expanded Medicaid eligibility in states that have adopted it and more than 20 million previously uninsured now have insurance, but universal healthcare it is not.

Time and time again I’ve heard Democrats dodge questions about their support for universal healthcare by saying they’re focused right now on defending the ACA. Now that we have repelled Paul Ryan’s attack and Donald Trump has signaled that Republicans will move on, the time for those excuses has passed.

For years, I’ve also watched as Democrats, including our presidential nominee last year, have avoided putting their name behind single payer by saying they’re focused on politically achievable short-term goals.

Single payer is politically achievable.

Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and other polling organizations have found that there is majority support for Medicare for All in America today. But more important, elected officials are not supposed to move to the political center, we are supposed to stake out the moral center and convince others to join us there.

November’s election results showed that we can’t just say “the other side is awful,” however true that may be, and expect Americans to flock to us. To win again, we must be a party of principles and present bold ideas and a vision for the future.

It is true that single-payer healthcare has been implemented in virtually every other advanced democracy on Earth. It is also true that in those countries, people live longer andhealthcare is dramatically less expensive than it is here. And finally, it is true that Medicare for All is the direction Americans overwhelmingly want us to go. Nevertheless, I want my colleagues to join me in supporting single-payer not to save money or to win elections, but because it is the moral and just thing to do. If, like me, you believe healthcare is a right to everyone and not a privilege to those who can afford it, let’s be organized and let’s be unified in our support for Medicare for All.


  • brickbob

    Here in Australia we pay a medicare levy which comes out of our wages salary every week or two weeks and to be quite honest we dont even know it’s been taken out,that’s how use we are to it,and even people on welfare pay a small levy which goes towards universal health care for all.

    I really hope your country introduces a single payer medicare style system,i guarantee you wont regret it. Good luck……………

  • Aquifer

    Glad to see Conyers calling out his own party – wonder if they will “primary” him, next year as they have done to other outspoken progs …

  • DHFabian

    Medicare without Medicaid is of little use to the masses of low-income Americans. Medicaid covers the costs of prescriptions and most treatment. Medicare alone is “just a middle class thing.”

    Universal health care (which many assume is the meaning of “Medicare for all”) isn’t going to happen because it wouldn’t make sense. There is no logic in providing more than emergency room services to our poor, just to dump them back on the streets. Lack of adequate food and shelter take a very heavy toll on human health. Twenty-some years into our war on the poor, the overall life expectancy of the US poor has already fallen below that of every developed country. While we work hard to ignore our poverty crisis, there is no way to ignore the consequences in terms of health care costs.

  • kevinzeese

    You are very confused and do not understand the bill. Medicare replaces Medicaid and provides better health coverage for the poor. Medicaid was set up as a welfare program for the poor so it is poor medicine. Improved Medicare will provide much better coverage for everyone including the poor. It will provide equity in healthcare.


    We will continue to fight for health care for all.

  • Jon

    Medicare works, So leave it alone. But if this recalcitrant Congress will not (and I think it naive to think anything different) enact Medicare for all, then we need to scare the manure out of the obstructionists and self-serving insurance industry lobbyists by acting boldly to self-organize a parallel to Medicare program that aims to cover all, but will initially be an opt-in system at about the same cost as Medicare. Imagine the panic at the insurance companies if millions opted out of paying their exorbitant fees! Worth a try? Say so.

  • Robert Hodge

    Agreed. Wasn’t that supposed to be the “Public Option” that Pelosi took off the ‘table’ before negotiations even STARTED in ’09? I believe so. Single Payor/Medicare for All/Universal coverage is the ONLY outcome acceptable at this stage of the game!

  • kevinzeese

    The public option is different, but you are right, the Dems even stopped that minor policy option. Medicare for all would rid us of the corrupt insurance industry and result in patient to doctor/health provider without the insurance industry in the middle screwing up our access to the healthcare we need.

  • Jon

    No, What I am proposing is much more radical in that it bypasses both government (which seems implacable) and the greedy medical “industry” including the insurance companies. It is a do-it-ourselves plan.

  • kevinzeese

    I hope you pursue it and let us know how it goes. It does not look possible to me with the cost of healthcare. I just do not see people being able to organize a sufficient number of people to make it viable. But, please try and write a report on how it goes. I’d love to be proven wrong.

  • Jon

    Thanks Kevin. I feel the same. I’d love to be proven wrong about Congress passing Medicare for All. But I am in no position to organize this. I am a conceptualizer primarily, a planter of seeds. I am willing to share my concept with anyone who wants to pursue it, but it will take far more organizing than I can even begin to do. But part of the plan would be to REDUCE the cost of health care, which is becoming astronomical. If we can cover MOST of the health issues MOST of the time, for all enrolled,that is a huge step forward.