Pushing for Medicare expansion and social transformation

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In the 2020 Democratic Party primaries, the progressive wing won on the issues. Most Americans support Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage, profound reform of Wall Street and big business, a wealth tax on the rich, labor unions, and ending racism and police brutality. A more moderate candidate, Joe Biden, won the nomination. Nevertheless, he ran on the most progressive platform in half a century.

As president, Biden has exceeded the expectations of progressives. But they are keeping the pressure on him. They remember that in 2009 many progressives relaxed and demobilized while Obama was furiously attacked by the Tea Party and obstructed at every turn by the Republicans in Congress.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have a very slim majority in Congress. The historical odds favor a Republican takeover of Congress in 2022. If that happens, it may be not only a defeat of progressive dreams but also the beginning of the end of any real democracy.

Biden and the Democrats have to carry out programs that improve the living standards and quality of life of Americans. We have to think big because we are facing the gigantic crises of grotesque economic inequality, climate chaos and systematic racism. 

When Biden introduced his American Rescue Plan in February, he declared, “The biggest risk is not going too big … it’s if we go too small.” When Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D- Washington), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, heard that, the New Yorker reported she told her husband, “That’s our line! He used our line!”

That means embracing the boogeyman of Big Government. Economist Jeff Faux explains in Dissent:

“For forty years, the right has flooded the public with anti-government narratives, with support from the neoliberal center. Center-right propaganda also blinded the public to the economic reality of their own lives: during the Obama presidency, 40 percent of Americans on Medicare, 53 percent of those with student loans, and 25 percent receiving food stamps thought that they did not receive any government aid.

“In a democratic society, distrust of government is a distrust of the people’s capacity to govern themselves collectively. For many on the right, the next logical step is toward Trump’s authoritarian claim that ‘only I can fix it.’”

Biden’s American Families Plan would be a huge step toward transforming our society.

It would provide paid family leave, childcare assistance, universal pre-K and more. It would be funded by taxes on the rich. We would begin to have a welfare state like other industrialized societies.

However, the plan basically doesn’t deal with health care. It does propose a permanent increase in  Obamacare or Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance exchange subsidies. That’s good but quite inadequate.

During the 2020 primaries, high health care costs were a top priority. Writing in The American Prospect, Jon Walker says, “One can only conclude that Biden doesn’t want to take on the power of the hospitals, drug companies and doctors right now.” However, he notes the ACA proposal is “among the least popular, with the narrowest set of beneficiaries. The sole thing that makes it stand out is that the health care industry loves it. The subsidies go directly to private health insurance companies, so that more people can afford care at hospitals and other providers, and prescription drugs. To the industry, it is purely more money and customers for them with no downside.”

In May, a broad ideologically diverse coalition of 150 Democrats in the House began a campaign to pressure Biden and the Democratic leadership to support a huge Medicare expansion which would be paid for by letting the federal government negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. 

The eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 60 from 65, adding about 23 million Americans. Out-of-pocket costs would be capped. The program’s benefits would be expanded to cover dental, vision and hearing.

The proposal is supported by more than a dozen centrist so-called frontline Democrats who represent conservative-leaning districts. Rep. Jayapal told the New York Times, “It is really unusual to get this level of intensity on a health care proposal.”

In a letter this month to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 103 labor, faith, healthcare, racial justice and other progressive groups urged Biden and the Congress to do the same thing. Except their proposal went a little further. They want to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 50.

We need to lower the Medicare eligibility age to zero. Right now. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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