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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/1/17

Ann Jones: Can the Age of Trump Spur Medicare for All?

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Scandinavia in Maryland?
Medicare for All in One State
By Ann Jones

You may have noticed that quite a few of the formerly united states of America have been choosing to go their own way. My own state, Massachusetts, now blooms with sanctuary cities sworn to protect residents from federal intrusion. Its attorney general, Maura Healey, was among the first to raise the legal challenge to President Trump's Muslim bans. She also sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education for abandoning rules meant to protect students from exploitation by private for-profit schools. (Think Trump University, for instance.) Even my state's Republican governor, Charlie Baker, announced well before the presidential election that he wouldn't vote for Donald Trump.

It's been like the Boston Tea Party all over again, with citizens and public officials refusing to abide by the edicts of their supposedly lawful rulers. And Massachusetts is not alone. Hawaii, Washington State, New York, Minnesota, and Oregon all joined the legal battle against Muslim bans, while many other states have denounced federal policies that threaten the nation's international reputation, the environment, or what's left of democracy itself. So far at least 10 states (as well as Puerto Rico) and more than 200 cities have committed themselves to work toward the environmental goals of the Paris Accord, just as the United States as a nation had promised to do before Trump trashed the deal.

We should recall that our founding fathers cobbled together our federal union -- our United States -- because they were convinced that the revolutionary colonies, each standing on its own, could not survive. For a time, the Civil War did then tear the union apart, and, a century and a half later, here we are, overstretched and teetering under the rule of an administration whose allegiances, if any, are far from clear. But there's no denying a new spirit in many states worthy of the Gadsden Flag of revolutionary times which warned, beneath a drawing of a distinctly American rattlesnake: Don't Tread on Me .

Some prospective political challengers to the current feckless crew in Washington go even further. Take, for example, Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP, a Democrat now vying to become governor of Maryland in 2018. He's not the only Democrat running for that position, but he's the one endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Jealous advocates something a bit vague called "climate action" plus a $15 minimum wage, an end to mass incarceration, the protection of immigrants, and -- get this -- statewide single-payer Medicare for All.

Let's talk about that health care possibility. Recent polls and reporting by the New York Times indicate that a lot of voters -- including Trump voters -- who opposed Obama's Affordable Care Act have changed their minds. They now not only like Obamacare but want to keep it and improve upon it. As one man in Pennsylvania told the Times, "I can't even remember why I opposed it." What's more, a Pew survey reports that fully 60% of Americans now say that health care for all is the responsibility of the government.

This awakening has been prompted by the unexpectedly enlightening spectacle of belligerent Republicans smuggling tax cuts for the rich into their very own totally man-made plan to deprive tens of millions of Americans of their bodily well-being. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, drove a stake through the heart of her party's second "health" care plan with a single comment: "I didn't come to Washington to hurt people." (After Trump harangued a crowd of 40,000 at the Boy Scout Jamboree held in Capito's home state, telling them that they "better get Senator Capito to vote for" a third Republican health care plan, she changed her mind, opting to hurt people rather than the President.)

The Stars Align

This combination of circumstances -- the newly rebellious spirit of the states, the collapse of the corrupt Republican Congress, and the absence of executive leadership (as opposed to tweetstorms) -- comes as part of a propitious realignment of astral constellations in America's natal chart. It suggests an opportunity to change course and take action.

Bernie Sanders argued for just such a change during the Democratic presidential debates last year. Remember? He tried hard to push lessons to be learned from the Scandinavian social democracies: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Every international evaluation rates those countries among the most successful and happiest on the planet, but Sanders proved unable to sell their ideas to Americans. His own understanding of social democracy was on the foggy side and that taboo word "socialist" kept getting in his way. But right now might be just the moment to try again.

Take Ben Jealous and his statewide Medicare for All plan. We're talking about a single-payer universal system that would cover every resident of his state, regardless of the condition of his or her health, and with no insurance companies jockeying for profits in the mix. Such a simple system is the one used by all the Scandinavian countries. If Maryland and other states adopted it, they would be delivering at the state level what most developed nations already provide for their citizens.

Isn't it worth a try? American politicians who refuse to learn lessons from Scandinavia usually dismiss those countries as too "small" to be relevant to America's exceptionally grand experience. And they do have a point: it's surely easier to implement a big plan on a smaller scale.

If that's true, however, then applying Medicare for All at the state level should be easier. And of all the states, only eight have a population greater than that of Scandinavia's biggest country, Sweden (nine million), while 30 states have fewer residents, most far fewer, than either Denmark (5.5 million) or Norway (5.3 million). In short, the most popular argument against single-payer health care for the nation -- the contention that we're way too big for such a system -- simply vanishes if you start at the state level.

But hold on. If a state becomes a single payer, where does it get the money?

Taxes, of course. Progressive income taxes. And let's not forget taxes on corporations and financial transactions. In most states, the money's there, even if it has a way of clinging to the pockets of the rich and disappearing from circulation. The job of any good government should be to collect its fair share of the wealth and redistribute it for the good of all. That's what social democracies do. That's why they're called social democracies.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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