By Joan Brunwasser for OpEdNews.com
Joan Brunwasser: My guest today is Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician from Maryland who is co-director of Popular Resistance and coordinator of Health Over Profit for Everyone Campaign. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Margaret.
Joan Brunwasser: Your most recent piece [2.25.18] in OpEdNews is entitled: A Proposal Designed to Confuse Public and Prevent “Medicare for All”. Apparently, the Dems are pushing a plan to expand Medicare. I’m confused. Isn’t this what we want – Medicare for all?
Margaret Flowers: Hello, Joan. Thank you for reaching out to me.
The Democratic Party’s think tank, Center for American Progress (CAP), calls their plan “Medicare Extra for All,” but it is actually an impediment to National Improved Medicare for All, which we support. Far from being Medicare for All, CAP’s plan would only give people under 65 years of age the chance to buy a Medicare plan, including the private insurance-run Medicare Advantage plans. It would keep the very complicated and costly private insurance-based system that we currently have and the for-profit health facilities that cost more and have poorer health outcomes. Their plan protects the profits of private health insurers.
Our movement views private health insurers as the problem and prevents them from standing between patients and the care they need. National Improved Medicare for All, or NIMA, would create a single national health insurance that includes every person in the country from birth to death and covers all necessary health care, including dental, vision and hearing care, medications, mental health and long term care and more. Patients choose where they go for care and patients and health professionals decide what care they need.
NIMA will control health care costs through proven methods by significantly reducing bureaucracy, negotiating fair prices for drugs and services and taking the profit motive out of the healthcare system. This savings allows the system to provide better benefits.
CAP’s proposal will still be very expensive, will leave people without insurance or with inadequate insurance and will allow private health insurers to continue to limit where people go for care and what care they receive.
It is interesting that CAP calls their plan “Medicare Extra for All,” because the fact that they use a name similar to what we support shows the movement for National Improved Medicare for All, or NIMA, is very strong. It is also a problem that they use this name because it is fooling some people into supporting it.
JB: This is very disappointing news. What are the press doing about making distinctions and emphasizing the differences between the two similarly named but very dissimilar plans?
MF: The commercial media is marketing the CAP plan as better than National Improved Medicare for All by calling it “more politically feasible.” It is disappointing to see progressive media outlets such as HuffPost embracing it as “liberal” and “ambitious.”
I view the CAP plan as quite the opposite. While it might be more politically palatable to members of Congress because they can appear to be supportive of Medicare for All while protecting the profits of the health industries that fund their campaigns, it is impractical because it will fail to solve the healthcare crisis.
The healthcare crisis in the United States will continue until we take effective steps to solve it. NIMA is the smallest step we can take because it places everyone in the same system at once, controls healthcare costs and uses that savings to provide comprehensive coverage. Anything less than that will fail because it will be too expensive and will leave people out. Beyond NIMA, there will still be work to do to open hospitals in rural areas and low income communities where they have closed, increase the number of primary care health professionals and more.
When it comes to what is politically feasible, that is a factor that people can change. In fact, it is changing as more people support NIMA and politicians are being forced to take a stand on it. The new CAP plan undermines the work that has been done to build support for NIMA by offering legislators an alternative that sounds good, but isn’t.
JB: It seems like we haven’t made any progress at all. Bernie’s campaign in 2016 showed that there were hordes of voters who willingly support Medicare for all. And now, after the massive tax bill and its cuts to services, claims will be bandied about that we can’t afford such an expense at this time. What would you say to that, Margaret?
MF: We have made progress because we now have record support for the model bill in the House, HR 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. There is also a new bill in the Senate that has 17 co-sponsors. While the Senate bill is highly flawed, it does open the door to discussions of Medicare for All in the Senate. And Democratic Party presidential hopefuls have signed on to the Senate bill. This is due to pressure on legislators by the public. Business leaders are speaking out in favor of NIMA too.
We do face serious threats to both Medicaid and Medicare. These have been undermined for decades through increasing privatization and cuts. At the same time, the popularity of Medicare and Medicaid is high, even among conservatives. We must fight those cuts and push for NIMA. These struggles go hand-in-hand.
When it comes to money, we are always told that there isn’t enough money at the federal level for the things we need. We never hear that there isn’t enough when it comes to expanding the military, cutting taxes for the rich or bailing out the banks and industries when they fail. The federal government can create money through the federal reserve. They can operate at a deficit.
Perhaps the most important point is that we can’t afford to continue on the same path when it comes to health care. We spend the most on health care in the United States, twice what most other countries spend and they cover everyone, have better outcomes and longer life expectancies. Over the past few decades, economic studies have shown that single payer systems like NIMA will cost less in the long run.
JB: What you say is true about our health care spending compared with other industrial countries. And it doesn’t seem sustainable, even if we somehow overlooked the fact that many millions of people are underinsured or not insured at all. But getting from where we currently are to a successful, major legislative push that reflects the public’s desires is another thing. What are you recommending in terms of raising awareness and bringing pressure to bear?
MF: There are many groups across the country that advocate for NIMA. This has grown in recent years, and it is very exciting to see. I coordinate a national campaign called Health Over Profit for Everyone (HOPE). We provide education and tools for activists to get involved locally. We hold national education and organizing calls, information about how to hold educational events locally, resources for educating members of Congress and more. We are holding our first Spring Single Payer Action Camp in Washington, DC this April to build activists’ skills. We also have a window sign campaign – people put signs supportive of NIMA on their homes, businesses and vehicles. The website is www.HealthOverProfit.org .
We need to focus on our members of Congress. Election season is a time when they are frequently in public, so this is a great time to press them on their support for NIMA. Those in office should be pressured to sign on to HR 676 in the House and to go beyond that by speaking out in favor of single payer health care.
The fact that a Wall Street-backed institution like the Center for American Progress is using Medicare for All language shows that we are having an impact. Our tasks are to stay on track pushing for NIMA, continue spreading the word about NIMA in our communities and press members of Congress to support NIMA. Together, we are changing the political culture so that anyone who runs for office will be compelled to support NIMA. That is how we’ll win.
JB: Thanks so much for talking with me, Margaret. It’s always a pleasure!
MF: Thanks, Joan.