By Terence Zhao
One of the very contentious issues in the increasingly heated Democratic race for president right now is single-payer healthcare, also known as “Medicare for all” or “what they do in Canada.” Essentially, instead of mandating that people buy insurance from private insurers and then subsidizing them for it, single-payer would simply have the government manage and provide health care without a middleman — in the same way Medicare is being run today. In the Democratic field, Hillary Clinton is vehemently against single-payer, but Bernie Sanders is in support of it.
Personally, I am a big fan of the idea. Single-payer reduces healthcare costs (in which the U.S. currently leads the industrialized world by a country mile, despite getting among the worst outcomes) by cutting out the middleman, reduces costs for pharmaceuticals by giving the government greater bargaining power over drug companies, and finally gives everyone coverage (which Obamacare, for whatever its benefits and drawbacks may be, simply does not do). And, let’s not forget that Medicare, on which single-payer will be based, is, by a long shot, the most efficient health insurance in the country.
But I am by no means alone in this: In fact, I’ve got most of the country behind me. More than half of all Americans support the idea, and among Democrats, that percentage rises to 80 percent — which, in the political world, is as close to unanimous support as you’re likely to get. Hillary, in this case, is the odd woman out, especially in the context of the Democratic Party.
Of course, Hillary can believe whatever she wants, and she can campaign on whatever she wants. If she wins on a platform that includes rejecting single-payer, so be it. But the way she is campaigning against Sanders and against single-payer is also disturbingly reckless, as it is distinctly damaging to the fight for single-payer healthcare and the Democratic cause for long after her presidential bid.
In recent days, Hillary has intensified her attacks on Bernie Sanders and his advocacy of single-payer, going so far as to characterize it as “the wrong direction” and a move that would “set us back.” This is cringeworthy in multiple ways. For starters, I think it is difficult to forget the fact that Hillary spent the better part of two years back in the 1990s pushing for universal healthcare — something she is now bizarrely against. But then again, contradictory policy positions have become something of a staple for Hillary, and it has unfortunately become almost expected.
More importantly, however, Hillary’s actions are fundamentally damaging to the future of the Democratic Party. As previously mentioned, 80 percent of all Democrats support single-payer healthcare. Moreover, expanding access to healthcare is a key part of the Democratic platform — it has been since the days of Harry Truman. The point is that whether or not Hillary herself supports single-payer healthcare, the Democratic Party certainly does — and quite enthusiastically, which means that this is a fight that the Democrats will inevitably take on at some point. And, given the overall popularity of the idea across the country, it is supposed to be a winning issue.
But Hillary Clinton is changing that. Now, when the fight comes, the Democrats will be on the losing side, because all of Hillary’s spur-of-the-moment attacks against single-payer will now certainly be used as cannon fodder by the GOP. I can already hear the attack ads in my head: The Democrats are pushing for a plan that their own leader thought was moving the country in the “wrong direction …” By churning out one reckless attack over another, Hillary is making the fight for health care for Americans — an uphill battle in the best of circumstances — even more grueling. And for what? Only to serve her own quest for more power, which in this case means attacking Bernie Sanders and his positions at all costs as to secure the presidential nomination, even if it means sacrificing the health and future success of her party, going against the will of her own voter base and ignoring the public opinion of a majority of Americans.
And if this is the kind of unprincipled, unproductive, self-serving politics we can expect from a Clinton presidency, then count me out.
On the 2008 campaign trail, Hillary Clinton quipped: “Since when do Democrats attack one another on universal health care?”
Apparently: since her own poll numbers started falling, and not a minute sooner.
Contact Terence Zhao at terencezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.