PENN YAN—Democratic Congressional Nominee Tracy Mitrano (NY-23) issued a statement today in which she reiterated her support for a more comprehensive and effective healthcare system—a system that works for everyone.
“I support basic healthcare for all, because I believe that everyone can, and should, have access to quality medical care,” Mitrano said. “Again and again, in towns across this district, I have heard from people about the difficulty they have in accessing the care they need, about high drug prices that force families to make impossible financial choices. Healthcare is the number-one issue for people across this country. Something must be done.”
Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, the number of uninsured Americans decreased significantly. In 2013, the year before the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid coverage took effect, 44 million Americans under 65 lacked health insurance, according to analysis done by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2016, that number had decreased to 27.6 million.
Yet Mitrano points out that 27.6 million is still far too high, especially in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. The uninsured rate in 2016 among the non-elderly U.S. population was 10.3 percent. While this is the lowest rate in decades, it also means that one in ten Americans, even after the passage of landmark healthcare legislation, remain without adequate medical care. In New York’s 23rd Congressional district alone, 38,888 people do not have health insurance, including more than 8,000 children.
Even individuals that do have health insurance often struggle to pay for their plans. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that about 15.5 percent of non-elderly Americans who have insurance reported that someone in their family either had to forego or delay care due to high costs or struggled to pay healthcare bills. A 2015 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 26 percent of people polled said that healthcare costs were a “serious financial problem” for their families.
Pharmaceutical drug prices, in particular, are a problem for many Americans. A 2016 Kaiser Health Tracking poll found that 77 percent of Americans believe that drug prices are “unreasonable.” U.S. spending on pharmaceutical drugs was $450 billion in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, putting it on track to outpace growth in other parts of the healthcare sector by this year.
These problems in healthcare affordability and access have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s policies, which despite the President’s promises, have generally been hostile to the ACA provisions aimed at protecting consumers. Though President Trump promised to uphold the ACA’s protection of Americans with pre-existing conditions, he supported Congressional Republicans in their attempt to repeal the bill without replacing it with similar protections.
Mitrano’s response is different: she wants healthcare for everyone. A number of iterations of this idea have been proposed by Democrats in recent years. Mitrano’s own preference would be for a gradual, voluntary expansion of Medicare coverage, aimed at allowing more and more Americans to access one of the government’s most popular programs. One version of such a policy was proposed earlier this year by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Their “Choose Medicare Act” would allow individuals and businesses to buy Medicare coverage; a somewhat similar plan, known as “Medicare Extra for All” has been proposed by the Center for American Progress.
The virtue of these plans is that they would allow millions more Americans to benefit the government’s ability to negotiate with healthcare providers to set prices. Medicare, originally implemented in 1965, is able to provide older Americans with lower drug prices because the government negotiates on behalf of millions of people. In expanding Medicare, more people would be able to access their prices while simultaneously giving the government more bargaining power.
Mitrano’s opponent, Rep. Tom Reed, has recently attacked Mitrano’s stance on healthcare, linking it to what he called a “tax-and-spend extreme liberal agenda” and characterizing it as “socialist.” Yet it is worth noting that, rather than being an “extreme” or uncommon position, “Medicare for All” healthcare has broad and indeed bipartisan support among the American people. A Reuters-Ipsos survey conducted this year found that 70 percent of Americans would support such a plan, including 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.
As for Reed’s criticism of the proposal on the grounds of its costliness, it’s worth noting that “Medicare for All” is likely to reduce spending on American healthcare in the long run. A recent study of the “Medicare for All” plan by the libertarian think tank Mercatus Center found that it would cost 32.6 trillion dollars over the course of the decade. Yet this would reduce spending on healthcare by $2 trillion. In other words, though the government would pay more, “Medicare for All” would actually make major strides in reducing the exorbitant costs of healthcare in the United States.
“‘Medicare for All’ isn’t socialist,” Mitrano said. “I’m not calling for government to own and operate healthcare providers or pharmaceutical drug companies. But Americans have long recognized that capitalism can’t do everything. That’s why we have minimum wage legislation. It’s why, since 1965, the government has had the power to negotiate prices for Medicare recipients, in order to safeguard healthcare coverage for older Americans. We need to expand these same benefits and protections to the entirety of the population. Reed previously owned a medical debt collection company, and perhaps his personal interests, not to mention his ties to big corporations, explain his inflated rhetoric on this issue. But the nearly 40,000 people in this district that don’t have health insurance don’t need rhetoric. They need access to affordable healthcare.”