Hey, you know what our lively healthcare discourse in the United States needed? The sober perspective of New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who has life-changing epiphanies every time he walks into a bodega.
On Monday, Brooks waded into the debate over Medicare for All with a column referring to it as “the impossible dream,” in which he essentially just dumped about three decades full of arguments against Medicare for All made by the right, the center, people who make money off our broken system, and so on. Brooks writes:
The Brits and Canadians I know certainly love their single-payer health care systems. If one of their politicians suggested they should switch to the American health care model, they’d throw him out the window.
So single-payer health care, or in our case “Medicare for all,” is worth taking seriously. I’ve just never understood how we get from here to there, how we transition from our current system to the one Bernie Sanders has proposed and Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and others have endorsed.
Hmm, all right. I guess one thing Brooks could do, as an ostensible journalist who works for the New York Times, is to read Sanders’ Medicare for All bill from 2017, or the one that was just introduced in the House by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, or maybe even just a very well-written rundown of what a single-payer system is and how we get there that just so happens to have been published on this very website. Alternatively, he could pick up the phone and ask someone who does understand “how we get from here to there.”
Brooks just goes on to repeat every single argument Medicare for All advocates have already heard hundreds of times from people who don’t have posh columnist gigs at the New York Times. These examples include:
- The people who currently work for health insurance companies, whose jobs will be automated out of existence in the coming decades anyway, would have to find other jobs (which, apropos of nothing, is why Medicare for All pairs nicely with a job guarantee)
- Even liberal states like Vermont and Colorado didn’t want single-payer (which is because single-payer needs federal buy-in; Medicaid expansion under the ACA also needed federal buy-in)
- Hospitals would have to change
- Doctors would have to take salary cuts
- The deficit!!! (Here, Brooks cites the conservative think tank Mercatus’ 2018 study, which found that one version of Medicare for All would actually save $2 trillion in national healthcare expenditures over 10 years)
- The government would have to change
- Healthcare, in general, would have to change
Essentially, what Brooks did was take a nice look around our current healthcare system—in which people with diabetes are forced to beg for money on GoFundMe in order to buy insulin—and ask advocates in a patronizing tone if they’re sure they know all of the consequences that will come with changing the system.
Yes, we do. That’s why we want it.
Even if you could forgive Brooks for not knowing the particulars of current or proposed healthcare policy in the United States, his read of the politics is completely wrong.
Brooks writes in the column:
Once they learn that Medicare for all would eliminate private insurance and raise taxes, only 37 percent of Americans support it, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. In 2010, Republicans scored an enormous electoral victory because voters feared that the government was taking over their health care, even though Obamacare really didn’t. Now, under Medicare for all, it really would. This seems like an excellent way to re-elect Donald Trump.
Here, Brooks just completely overlooks two significant things about what happened in 2010 and what’s happened since. The first is that most of the Democrats who were wiped out in 2010 sabotaged what could have been one of the most popular aspects of the law—the public option, emphasis on public—and then, after it passed, did their very best to run screaming from the Affordable Care Act and the president who pushed for its passage.
As prominent neoliberal and former Clinton Treasury official Brad DeLong told Vox in an interview yesterday: “The highest priority for Blue Dogs in red and purple states—in 1994 and in 2010—ought to have been making it clear the president of their party was a great success.”
The second thing Brooks appears to be oblivious to is what happened four months ago, when somewhere around 60 percent of Democrats who endorsed Medicare for All won their House races in the 2018 midterms—a number that includes Democrats who endorsed the bill in deep-red districts they had no shot of winning in the first place. This also came two years after a Democratic presidential nominee who said single-payer would “never, ever” happen lost to a man whose signature policy goal was building a giant wall across the Southern border. A lot has happened since 2010, David.
Brooks, a prominent Never Trumper, might think he’s doing Medicare for All advocates a favor by reiterating to them just how difficult this fight is going to be. The reality is that no one ever thought that overcoming the health insurance industry, the entire Republican Party, conservative Democrats, and pundits like David Brooks in order to build the healthcare apparatus that all human beings deserve was going to be easy. It has never been easy.
But some things are worth doing no matter how hard. Building a healthcare system that works just as well for the poorest among us as it does the rich is one of those things.