Medicare for All represents the evolution of the health care debate in the U.S.

Last Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled his “Medicare for All” bill, a seismic legislative restructuring of the American health care system. Under the proposed bill, the federal government would establish a program akin to Medicare that would cover every American.

Naturally, the bill will elicit the scorn of conservatives and the adulation of progressives. The imminent debate over the bill’s merits, however, threatens to obscure its greater significance. Fifty-two years after Medicare’s passage, universal health care has finally entered the mainstream of American political discourse, a long-overdue development.

Nationalized health insurance, despite being a reality in most Western European countries for decades, has always faced fierce resistance. During the whirlwind of liberal legislation in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed the topic so politically toxic that his New Deal made no provisions to guarantee health care for Americans. Likewise, an intense lobbying campaign derailed President Harry Truman’s universal health care proposal.

Even after the Medicare bill’s passage in 1965, concerted opposition to a national health program persisted. Perhaps most strikingly, the Clinton Administration’s push for a national health care system in 1993 backfired politically, with the Democrats ceding control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans for the first time in four decades. The Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010, a profound legislative accomplishment in its own right, nonetheless contributed to Democratic congressional midterm losses. With such memories, Democrats can be forgiven for their hesitant, incrementalist approach to health care.

Nevertheless, Americans are increasingly becoming receptive to federally-provided health care. As of June 2017, according to a Pew Research poll, 60 percent of Americans believe “the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans.” As late as 2014, however, even Democratic candidates were reluctant to embrace the Affordable Care Act.

The 2016 election, unsurprisingly, was significant in this respect. During the Democratic primaries, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championed the Affordable Care Act, a legislative successor to her 1993 health care efforts. More significant, however, was Sen. Sanders’s popularity despite, and in many cases because of, his embrace of a single-payer system.

As president-elect, Donald Trump likewise surprisingly promised universal coverage, telling the Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” As Republican lawmakers prepared to repeal the ACA earlier this year, thousands of angry citizens across the country voiced their support for the law. To be sure, the ACA, frequently dubbed Obamacare, does not nationalize the American health care system. Nevertheless, its current staying power reflects an increasing belief in government’s role to provide health care for its citizens.

The Medicare for All bill’s significance, therefore, cannot be overstated. For the first time in American political history, the idea that each person must have health insurance is at least palatable to a majority of the electorate. Sidestepping the rigid libertarian streak that has plagued modern debates over health insurance, the United States is closer to affirming the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Of course, this is not an endorsement of Sanders’s proposal. Lacking a clear payment plan, it should be subject to the utmost rigor in the upcoming debates. But such important debates are occurring. Democrats will, quite frankly, not pass Medicare for All until, at the very least, 2021.

Nevertheless, they prove themselves on the right side of history for affirming the right of every human being to adequate, affordable medical coverage: in other words, universal health care. Despite the impending resistance, Democrats must fiercely defend this right. Our nation’s moral prerogative demands no less.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Nketiah is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Comment