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Put single-payer health care back on the table

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President Donald Trump reacts after Republicans abruptly pulled their health care bill from the House floor in the Oval Office of the White House on March 24, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
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With Trumpcare dead on arrival in Congress, Democrats have an opening to propose what they should have pushed for in the first place: single-payer health care for all. Fifty-eight percent of Americans, including 41 percent of Republicans, favor a federally funded health care system that provides universal coverage. Only 48 percent want to keep Obamacare as is.

Though Democrats are loathe to admit it, Obamacare is far from perfect. Some people pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs than they can afford. In some areas of the country, choices of doctors are limited. Compared to nations with single-payer systems, health outcomes are poor. And a small but vocal minority of Americans are troubled by Obamacare’s individual mandate which, they believe, infringes on their liberty.

Under Obamacare, Americans spend more and pop more pills yet are chronically sicker and die younger than Canadians and Europeans who have single-payer health care systems that can negotiate lower prices, cap costs, streamline administrative overhead and, most importantly, put caring for people ahead of corporate profits.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act was modeled after a blueprint created by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and adopted by Republican Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. Right-wing Republicans like Newt Gingrich embraced the Heritage Foundation’s individual mandate, back in the day, for one simple reason: It served to derail the Clintons’ single-payer proposal.

Though they’re now virulently opposed to Obamacare, right-wingers certainly prefer it over single-payer. Lucky for them, Democrats haven’t put single-payer back on the table.

They ought to.

Bernie Sanders ran with remarkable success on a Medicare for All proposal that generated enormous excitement among the progressive wing of the party and sent shivers down the spine of the Democratic corporate establishment. Hillary Clinton, a one-time champion of single-payer, pounced on Sanders with alarmist, counterfactual claims that Sanders’ proposal would increase costs and make people worse off.

While the GOP is still cringing over the humiliating defeat of its seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare, Democrats should kick them while they’re down by introducing single-payer legislation. Even Trump-collaborator, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, is starting to wise up, thanks to his constituents; at a recent town meeting, Manchin praised Canada’s health care system and said he was taking a look at single-payer as an alternative to Obamacare.

As to the $1.4 trillion question of who will pay for single-payer, the short answer is … the rich. Sanders’ platform called for Wall Street financial transaction taxes, capital gains tax hikes, restoration of the estate tax and the closing of loopholes that allow corporations and the super-rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. There’s no shortage of progressive taxation ideas, but Democrats, beholden to the corporate elites who finance their campaigns, lack the will to put them forward.

The approval rating for the Democratic Party has sunk to 36 percent, lower even than Trump’s. Many have given up hope that the Democrats stand for anything. We watched all too quietly while Bill Clinton dismantled welfare and deregulated Wall Street. We stood by while President Obama cut food stamps by $8.7 billion, pursued endless wars and bailed out the Wall Street predators whose greed and fraud triggered the Great Recession while leaving defrauded, underwater homeowners to fend for themselves (and that was back when the Democrats still had control of Congress).

We watched the Democratic National Committee undercut Sanders’ candidacy. And we’ve watched the Democrats disappear the single-payer option by refusing to support Rep. John Conyers’, D-MI, single-payer bill (HR 676). Enough.

The Democrats’ lackluster opposition to Trumpism does not match the fierce and relentless resistance of their base. They can and must stop doubling down on the centrist “pragmatism” that has alienated growing numbers of voters and start acting like a party more committed to the health and well-being of the 99 percent than protecting the power and profits of oligarchs.

This populist moment in American politics is the Democrats’ to seize. With a strong majority supporting single payer, the Democrat have a golden opportunity to give their dwindling base a reason to come home. As Trump said moments after conceding defeat, “Here’s the good news: Health care is now totally the property of the Democrats.” Good news indeed, if the Democrats know what to make of it.

Erica Etelson is a writer and member of Indivisible East Bay.

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