The Democratic Party won back the House in a landslide 2018 midterm victory primarily on the basis of one issue: health care. It can’t win the 2020 presidential race without again winning over voters on this kitchen table issue.
However, Democrats are on the verge of handing a second term to Donald Trump by prioritizing the far-left policies of Twittersphere Democrats over the health care concerns of working-class Americans.
Americans trust Democrats to protect health care by a 17-point margin over Republicans. We should not squander this public trust, especially as Republicans continue their relentless efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act legislatively and through the courts, with no real alternative proposals of their own.
But if Democrats want to lose in 2020 — and I mean lose “bigly” — then they should keep pushing pie-in-the-sky policies like “Medicare for All” and single-payer health care proposals. It’s the fastest way to lose independent and working-class voters.
Growing up as the son of a West Virginia coal miner, I saw firsthand how hard my father’s union fought to win their employee-sponsored health care coverage. Union workers nationwide struggled for the same right. So Democratic candidates would be smart to remember that a substantial swath of the nearly 157 million Americans covered by employee-sponsored health care plans are from union families — working-class Americans upon whom they once could steadfastly rely on for votes.
The simple fact is most people are fairly satisfied with, and indeed proud of, their employer health plans. They might want marginal improvements or more competitive alternatives, but they do not want to be forced to switch to a government-run plan.
Accordingly, Democrats would be wise to articulate the difference between “health care for all” and “Medicare for All.” When candidates talk about kicking hundreds of millions of Americans off the private plans they currently enjoy today, that is going too far for many mainstream voters.
What Americans want — and what Democrats should be championing — is for Congress and our elected officials to double down on the single-greatest Democratic domestic public policy victory of the past 50 years: the Affordable Care Act. It has resulted in coverage for an additional 20 million Americans, while dramatically decreasing the percentage of our fellow citizens without health care coverage.
Millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions no longer have to worry about being denied coverage, charged higher premiums or confronting lifetime caps. It is far from perfect, but it should not be abandoned by the very party that championed it.
By shoring up the ACA, Democrats can build upon what is working in our current health care system while improving, or eliminating, what isn’t. Unless and until the candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary begin to fully understand and embrace that simple fact, as former Vice President Joe Biden recently did, they stand no chance of winning over the general public next November.
There is no shortage of solutions Democrats could focus on to build upon the ACA and strengthen our overall health care system — from expanding Medicaid in the states to lowering prescription drug prices to reprioritizing education and enrollment efforts to increasing federal subsidies for more low- and middle-income Americans to help pay for health care coverage. These are real, practical policy positions that the candidates should be discussing on the campaign trail and in debates.
Health care is a right, not a privilege. Ensuring that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care should remain among our highest priorities. But before we disrupt the country’s entire health care apparatus, let’s focus on fixing the very system we Democrats fought so hard to establish and to protect.
Erik Huey is co-founder of Platinum Advisors DC and a senior entertainment, tech and media industry government and public affairs executive with over 25 years of experience.
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