Why the Argument that Medicare for All Will Curtail “Freedom” Is So, So Wrong


Why the Argument that Medicare for All Will Curtail “Freedom” Is So, So Wrong

Joe Biden and other centrists are deploying cynical arguments to defend the for-profit insurance system. We shouldn’t buy it.


Debate over the future of American healthcare has led off every Democratic presidential debate so far this year. While Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have defended a Medicare for All system that would guarantee healthcare as a right, other more centrist candidates have sought to undercut such a plan—and they’ve been led by Joe Biden.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, Bloomberg reports, the Biden campaign has been “testing messages designed to undercut support among Democrats for Medicare for All.” The survey, commissioned by Wall Street-funded Democratic think tank Third Way, road-tested fear-mongering rhetoric that was crafted by the for-profit health insurance industry—and sounded a lot like Republican talking points.

Biden isn’t alone. In the last debate on September 12, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke all joined him in falsely suggesting that people would lose choice and freedom under a Medicare for All system.

O’Rourke called Medicare for All “an all-or-nothing gambit, forcing tens of millions off of insurance that they like, that works for them, to force them onto Medicare.”

Amy Klobuchar echoed, “149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance.”

Harris, meanwhile, said candidates should be “offering people choice, not taking that from them,” while Buttigieg claimed, “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them,” asking Sanders: “Why don’t you?”

This portrayal of private insurance plans as bastions of choice and freedom isn’t just misguided, it serves to defend profit-hungry companies at the expense of the millions upon millions of Americans who would benefit from guaranteed health care and financial security provided by a single-payer, Medicare for All system.

Biden and his ilk make the critical mistake of conflating coverage with care. They assume that people “covered” by subsidized private insurance plans can actually get care, and can do so without going broke—but that’s simply not true.

From 2005 to 2018, some 60 million Americans per year—including one half of the insured population—chose to skip or delay medical care. In 2016, a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with the New York Times found that 85 million Americans were in medical debt. Of those, roughly 6 in 10 were insured.

The government can help extend private coverage to more people, but insurance companies will keep pushing costs onto us, keep dropping treatments, medicines, and doctors from their plans, and keep denying our claims. The only real solution is universal, guaranteed healthcare.

The attacks on Medicare for All also betray an impoverished understanding of freedom as a choice between insurance products. But people don’t want a choice between Aetna and Cigna. They want the freedom of guaranteed healthcare; the freedom to choose their doctor, hospitals and treatments; and financial freedom from insurance, hospital and drug bills.

The flip side of freedom is coercion, and while centrist Democratic candidates may raise alarms about government coercion, they ignore the countless ways that insurance companies coerce people every day.

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