By Dr. Margaret Flowers, Maryland Green Party
In late May, the North Carolina state Green Party, co-chaired by Tony Ndege and Jan Martell, worked with the North Carolina chapters of Physicians for a National Health Program to host me for a four-city speaking tour called “Our Path to Medicare for All.” Even though there was heavy rain throughout the week, and a tornado watch, the events were well-attended by Greens and non-Greens in every city.
This is an opportune time for Green Party members to join local efforts to organize for National Improved Medicare for All single payer health care or to take the lead on this issue in their communities if no such efforts exist. The failures of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” (ACA) and the threat of an even worse approach, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), by Republicans, are uniting people across the political spectrum to fight for Medicare for All as a solution to the current healthcare crisis.
For the first time in decades a movement of movements is developing to win Medicare for All. The Democrats started the year in a strictly defensive position, but their base rejected that and is making Medicare for All a litmus test. A record number of Democrats in Congress, 112 at present, are co-sponsors of HR 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act and Senator Sanders, who stated last fall that he would not introduce single payer legislation, is expected to introduce a Medicare for All bill this summer. Republican voters are taking their members to task over the AHCA’s removal of protection for patients with pre-existing conditions and cuts to Medicaid and are calling for single payer. Business leaders and prominent conservatives are stating publicly that only a single payer healthcare system makes sense. And health professional organizations such as the American College of Physicians and academies for pediatrics and family practice are showing support.
Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties include Medicare for All in their political platforms. This is one of many issues that distinguish Greens from the corporate parties, and so organizing for Medicare for All is also a way to introduce people to the Green Party platform. It is an excellent issue for Greens to emphasize in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Winning Medicare for All would signal a fundamental shift in the United States that would serve as a springboard for other fundamentally necessary policies. It would mean passage of a significant public policy that places the health and wellbeing of people before corporate profits. It would mean the U.S. recognizes, for the first time in history, that every person has the right to the same standard of high quality health care. And it would create social solidarity across the lines of class, gender, race and ethnicity.
Most industrialized nations recognize that welfare programs are poor programs, and that the only way to create a high quality social program is by making it universal. When everyone is included in the program, whether it is health care, education or pensions, then it is not possible to divide the population and pit groups against each other. Divide and conquer is a long-time practice that has been used to weaken social movements and allow the political elites to succeed in winning policies that benefit them.
Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties include Medicare for All in their political platforms. This is one of many issues that distinguish Greens from the corporate parties
This practice was evident during the health reform process in 2009 that resulted in passage of the ACA in 2010. The ACA had specific provisions that benefited women and youth. These were used to silence groups who pointed out that the ACA would continue to leave tens of millions of people without health insurance and would lead to tens of millions more who had health insurance but still couldn’t afford necessary health care because of out-of-pocket expenses and restricted health provider networks.
National Improved Medicare for All would create a healthcare system that includes every person living in the US, eliminates out-of-pocket costs, covers all medically necessary care and is paid for up front through a progressive tax. It would be a first step toward making health, rather than profit, the bottom line of our healthcare system. And it would empower people to fight for other policies that benefit our health such as access to healthy food, clean water, clean transit and more.
The U.S. is at a crossroads where we need to decide whether health care is a commodity, in which people are only able to access as much health care as they can afford, or a public service, in which every person has access to the care they need. We already spend enough on health care as a nation, twice what other industrialized nations with universal systems spend, to provide universal comprehensive coverage. The major obstacle to achieving Medicare for All is changing the political culture so that it is the only acceptable solution. This is where Greens play a critical role, just as independent parties have played in major social transformations throughout history.
Dr. Margaret Flowers is a dues-paying member of the Baltimore City Green Party, a former Green Party candidate for US Senate in Maryland in which she received more than 90,000 votes, active in the Green Party of the United States, adviser to the board of Physicians for a National Health Program, co-director of Popular Resistance and co-founder of the Health Over Profit for Everyone (HOPE) campaign.