Medicare for All: Health & Politics or Just Politics?

Tom Brenner NYTimes

(Tom Brenner/New York Times)

Today, Bernie Sanders, Independent Senator from Vermont, unveiled a proposal to reshape the United States health care industry by providing federally led health insurance to all Americans. Sanders, with the support of 16 Senators, has branded his proposal “Medicare for All.”

We are going to determine whether health care is worth the attention it receives, how the media frames the matter, and whether that aligns with what you think is important.

After the Senate failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in July, we asked readers to begin looking for solutions put forth by the opposition party – the Democrats – to fix healthcare.

Nearly all media sources are covering the unveiling of the proposal. With that said, most media sources are granting it merely obligatory attention and burying it beneath the headlines.

We are going to contrast The Washington Post with Fox News’s coverage. Neither has Medicare for All as its premier story, but the Washington Post has it elevated on the front page. Fox has buried the story, but they represent the conservative viewpoint today.

The New York Times is continuing its focus on Hurricane Irma’s aftermath. Their article on the Sanders plan is combined with coverage of the Republican Cassidy-Graham plan. CNN giving attention to three main stories today: Susan Rice’s role in the Russia investigation, the hurricane aftermath, and a pumped up controversy pertaining to an ESPN commentator’s remarks on Trump. They have a story on the Sanders plan buried in their “Politics” section.


Is this worth discussing?

The state of healthcare in the U.S. is in an impending financial crisis. By 2025, health care spending will equal 20% of GDP. This is a major reason for its discussion on both sides of the aisle.

Here are the premises each side operates off:

A) Both sides make the claim that health insurance should be available to all Americans.

B) Both sides make the claim that affordable health insurance should be available to all Americans.

In addition to the above statements, Democrats believe health insurance should be comprehensive. In other words, what good is it to have health insurance if you are still going to end up paying a five figure deductible for ending up in the hospital?

In addition to statements A & B, Republicans believe the role of government should be curtailed in health care. They argue that the government impedes market forces, which in turn causes costs in the marketplace to rise.

Both sides have intra-party disagreement on how involved the government should be. Republicans debate whether going completely free market vs giving block grants to states. Democrats debate fixing the ACA vs overhauling the system with Medicare for All.


What is at stake?

McKinsey HealthCareCosts3


Most people would agree that a health care debate should focus on the above points – what will drive down costs, which services will be included, what will the role of government be, etc. The stakes involve the physical health of millions of Americans as well as the financial ability to pay for health services.

The other stakes are political. Which stance will help the next crop of presidential contenders and such.

Which answers do you consider more important?


How is it covered?

Fox News

Bernie looks a little angrier on Fox (source: Fox News)

Fox News’s headline: “Sanders’ single-payer plan pits 2020 hopefuls against Dem leaders

The lede: Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday will officially unveil his single-payer health care bill, exposing tensions in the Democratic Party as 2020 presidential hopefuls rally behind the plan yet congressional leaders hold back support. 

The “Medicare for All” plan from Sanders, a Vermont independent and sage of the American political left, is backed by 15 co-sponsors. 

The list, unveiled Wednesday morning, includes several Democratic senators thought to be eyeing a 2020 White House bid — Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts; Kamal Harris, of California; Cory Booker, of New Jersey; and Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York. 

So the lone Fox article on health care has chosen to cover the political consequences instead of the health/financial/economic consequences. As a result, Fox readers view the debate as a standard Democrats vs Republican ideological sports match.

Imagine how Fox readers would feel about the debate if the lede had focused on curbing rising costs for the elderly population in the southeastern US. Readers would be a bit more interested in the substance of the proposal.

The article goes on to point out the cost is unclear. Fox references a different health proposal made by Sanders during the presidential campaign which cost $13.8 trillion over 10 years. Again, that was a different plan.


Compare/Contrast this with The Washington Post: “Sanders introduces health care, backed by 15 Democrats

The lede: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would expand Medicare into a universal health insurance program with the backing of at least 15 Democratic senators — a record level of support for an idea that had been relegated to the fringes during the last Democratic presidency.

“This is where the country has got to go,” Sanders said in an interview at his Senate office. “Right now, if we want to move away from a dysfunctional, wasteful, bureaucratic system into a rational health-care system that guarantees coverage to everyone in a cost-effective way, the only way to do it is Medicare for All.”

The Washington Post also frames it politically. Just like Fox, the plan’s impact on political futures becomes prioritized over the benefits or costs of the plan. However, unlike Fox, the article goes on to detail the substance of the plan. The article heavily cites Sanders’s case for Medicare for All, showcasing his rationale that costs would be shifted and lowered.

The Washington Post is not being cherry-picked here – the New York Times and other mainstream media all adopt a similar framing device. They prioritize the political value of the plan, then go on to talk about substance. Fox differs primarily by discussing the substance much, much less.

So again, imagine if The Washington Post had opened the story by emphasizing the costs of elderly people in southeastern U.S. instead of the political futures of Democrats. Readers would implicitly value the plan for its outcomes on health care and costs, more than the input toward the 2020 election.


Are the political consequences worth the attention?

The Washington Post notes that the Medicare for All plan is not going to pass as long as Republicans control government. It will not even be debated within DC.

Moreover, it remains unclear how the plan will be paid for. That information is said to be coming.

Also, the support of 16 Democratic senators, some with an eye toward 2020, is significant as it marks a clear shift in the party’s warmth toward universal health care.

So considering these three aspects, does it make sense that the political consequences are prioritized?

Or, should the political consequences be mentioned, but not the focal point when debating how health care can change?


What can you do?

Jay Laprete Getty Images

(Jay Laprete/Getty)

This is a clear Senate issue. Call your Senator and let them know how you feel about universal coverage. Remember that there are universal coverage options other than Medicare for All (if you support progressive policies). If you are against it, let your Senator know how you feel about the Graham-Cassidy plan.

Let your Senators know if this issue is important to you.

The other thing you can do is speak about the impacts of the bill that are important to you. Tell your Senator/friends/co-workers/Twitter followers about the costs, your experience with health insurance if those are what you want the focus to be on. Tell them about who you want to run in 2020 if that is your priority.


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