By Casey Quinlan for Think Progress. Protesters at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Jack Jenkins

As Democratic leaders spoke at the Capitol on Wednesday, protesters repeatedly shouted “single payer!”

“Single payer!” proved to be a rallying cry for demonstrators at an anti-Trumpcare protest on Capitol Hill this Wednesday, suggesting that a growing number of progressive activists want to go farther than simply preserving the Affordable Care Act. As high-profile Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) made passionate speeches about the benefits of the ACA, some protesters responded with calls for a universal health care system.

This is a demand Democrats have heard in town halls and protests all over the country, and the message appears to be getting through. Democratic leaders and party strategists told the New York Times earlier this month that the party is shifting left on health care, and that the 2020 presidential nominee will probably back a “broader version” of coverage than any previous nominee.

Only a day before the protest, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — who has dodged questions on whether she will run for president in 2020 — told The Wall Street Journal that the Democratic Party should campaign on a single payer plan. She added that former President Barack Obama used a “conservative model” for the ACA, referring to the fact that it took inspiration from a plan signed into law by Republican Massachusetts Governor (and, later, 2012 Republican presidential nominee) Mitt Romney.

“Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer,” Warren said to the Journal.

Even outside the protests and Indivisible town halls, single payer health care is growing in popularity. A Pew Research poll released last week found that 33 percent of respondents favored a single payer system — up from 28 percent in January. [Note: The poll showed that 64% of conservative Republicans support preserving Medicaid and Medicare.]

Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has been participating in town halls to share his health care policy expertise and help people understand the possible consequences of the Republican health care bill. ThinkProgress reached out to Slavitt by email to learn how often people mention single payer and ask how the country can move toward the a single payer system during his town halls. Slavitt answered, “Every single time. And not just from Democrats.”

Two protesters at the Capitol Hill event told ThinkProgress they were eager to see a single payer system implemented in the U.S.

When asked why he attended the protest, a man who said he wished to remain unidentified told ThinkProgress, “I feel like the ACA has been the right system, except that it didn’t go far enough and should be single payer.”

Bethany, a 23 year-old paralegal, told ThinkProgress that she believes health care is a human right and that it’s “absurd that in a country with as much money and resources as we do, we can’t provide comprehensive basic health care to the neediest people in our society.”

Protesters at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Casey Quinlan

“Things like the ACA are great first steps toward a really comprehensive health system,” Bethany said.

When asked whether she thought the debate over health care has helped or hurt advocacy for a single payer system, Bethany said, “Single payer is a term people are using that they never really thought about before. It used to be a pipe dream. Now it’s at the forefront, because there’s so much more at stake now than there was last eight years.”

But single payer still has significant hurdles to overcome — even in states as liberal as California, where the speaker of the state assembly just put the kibosh on legislation that would have established a statewide single payer system.

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, released a statement to the press last week saying that the bill was “woefully incomplete,” and did not thoroughly address issues such as cost controls, financing, and delivery of care. Rendon added that a single-payer initiative may be put on the ballot in November 2018.

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