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With the 116th Congress in full swing, hardworking Americans are eager for our leaders to focus on priorities that matter to everyone — such as strengthening the health care system we all depend upon.
Like any system, ours is not perfect. But thanks to the progress we have already made, the 116th Congress has an important opportunity to protect what works, while coming together to fix what doesn’t.
The fact is, for millions of Americans, our current health care system is working, even though more can and should be done to improve it. Market-based coverage such as employer-provided care is working together with public programs to extend quality health care coverage to more Americans than ever before.
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Thanks to the progress we’ve made, millions more Americans are now covered; patients with pre-existing conditions are protected, and young adults can stay on their parents’ health plans until they are 26 years old.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that over a four-year period, roughly 7 million additional Americans gained employer-provided health care coverage, bringing the number of Americans covered by employer-provided health insurance to nearly 160 million — far and away the largest group of covered Americans.
And with the Affordable Care Act, individuals who are not covered by their employers can finally access more affordable coverage for themselves and their families. In fact, Kaiser reported that 10 million people were covered through the ACA’s marketplaces last year, and tens of millions of Americans have access to Medicaid in the states that have expanded.
Public opinion research consistently shows that many Americans are happy with the coverage and care they and their families receive. Nearly seven in 10 Americans surveyed by Gallup in December rated their coverage either “good” or “excellent.”
But we can all agree that there is more work to be done.
Working within the existing system, we can bring down costs and extend coverage to millions more Americans. By expanding coverage at the state level through Medicaid, using tools such as reinsurance to stabilize premiums, and expanding federal subsidies so more people at all income levels can afford insurance, we can bring peace of mind to Americans who are concerned about their health care.
Unfortunately, rather than building on the successes and addressing the shortcomings of our system, some are promoting a very different approach that is short-sighted and potentially disastrous for individuals and our health care system. Despite the progress we have made together and the satisfaction Americans express with the coverage and care they receive, proposals to eliminate our entire health care system and start from scratch have gained increased attention and media coverage in recent months.
Under the slogan “Medicare for All,” some have argued for eliminating the private coverage millions depend on, causing massive disruptions to our care and forcing every American into a one-size-fits-all plan run by Washington.
This approach, whether it’s called Medicare for All, single-payer or a public option, would lead to a government-run health care system that gives Americans fewer choices and less control over their doctors, treatments and coverage. It would also mean trillions of dollars in higher taxes for hardworking families, a lower quality of care and longer wait times for patients.
Under Medicare for All, health care decisions would shift away from patients and doctors toward Washington politicians and bureaucrats. It would mean more politics in your health care and fewer choices for all Americans.
And while some have pointed to polls showing Americans are open to the idea of Medicare for All, a basic examination of those very same polls reveals that few Americans support the idea once they learn the facts.
A recent survey by NORC at the University of Chicago revealed a low degree of knowledge and a high degree of confusion among the American public when it comes to Medicare for All, with nearly half of respondents saying they know nothing about such proposals, and a majority misunderstanding how they would be affected by Medicare for All.
And while a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed initial support for Medicare for All at 56 percent, it also found that “net favorability drops as low as -44 percentage points when people hear the argument that [Medicare for All] would lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments.” Net negative favorability also drops to double digits when respondents are informed it would “threaten the current Medicare program (-28 percentage points),” lead to higher taxes for most Americans (-23 percentage points), or eliminate the control and choices Americans currently enjoy through employer-provided and other private health coverage (-21 percentage points).
That comes as no surprise, and it tracks closely with what Americans told us at the ballot box last November.
Despite the hype around Medicare for All and other single-payer proposals, the reality is very few winning candidates in the seats that ultimately delivered Democrats the House majority endorsed such proposals.
In fact, not a single one of the 11 Democratic candidates who won in House districts where a majority of voters supported Republican presidential candidates in the past decade support Medicare for All, and 74 percent of all House Democrats who won seats in Republican-leaning districts do not support Medicare for All. Not one of the four non-incumbent Democrats who won statewide races last November in states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 supports Medicare for All.
Instead, Democrats netted 40 U.S. House seats largely on an agenda of protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions and other policies aimed at preserving and strengthening our current health care system.
Given those facts, it’s no wonder that some are warning that the push by a vocal minority to move forward with proposals to eliminate our present health care system and enroll every American in a one-size-fits all, government-run plan could subject the Democratic party to a voter backlash similar to what Republicans faced in their quest to repeal the ACA.
Today, we have a health care system that works for more Americans than at any time in the nation’s history. So, rather than tearing that hard-earned progress down, let’s protect the strides we have made and come together to do the important work that still needs to be done.
Lauren Crawford Shaver is the executive director of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, and she was previously the deputy assistant secretary for public affairs in health care at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and has worked on numerous Democratic political campaigns over the last decade.
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