Over the first year of the 2020 Democratic primary, candidates have walked a fine line on Medicare-for-all, pledging that while they support the principle, they have qualms with how to pay for it and what it would do to private insurance in America.
And when an international pandemic has laid bare the myriad flaws with our current healthcare system—people being turned down and dying due to lack of coverage, hospitals underfunded and ill-equipped to handle an influx of patients, insurance companies gouging people for testing, and laid-off workers losing their employer-provided healthcare at the worst time—Democrats have been put in a fascinating spot.
Here’s a situation where every problem in the system they’ve agreed is horribly broken is exposed. And yet, it hasn’t caused them to shift their position one bit—seeing this and agreeing that tinkering at the margins is the solution, instead of calling the system broken and demanding an overhaul.
Yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden said “single-payer” isn’t the answer.
Biden himself has said he supports Medicare-for-all in principle.
Which brings us to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). On Monday, she tweeted that “testing AND treatment” for coronavirus “needs to be free. Period.”
That’s been a popular Democratic line. No one deserves to die from this pandemic because they don’t have money, because they don’t have insurance, because they are afraid of a hospital bill.
To which, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) press secretary asked what makes this disease so fundamentally different from dozens of others?
“This is a good start, but is it ok to die from cancer or diabetes becuase [sic] you’re poor?,” Briahna Joy Gray wrote.
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Sanders has been the only candidate in the Democratic field adamant and unwavering in support of Medicare-for-all, and his team has used this pandemic to highlight that the government is capable of picking and choosing what healthcare it provides for free, despite all the blustering about cost and feasibility.
It’s a disconsonant experience people don’t like to confront. So, instead, Joy Gray’s choice to quote-tweet Harris allowed people to ignore the premise of the question and instead attack her.
Harris’ mother died of colon cancer in 2009. Joy Gray’s tweet was repeatedly called “in poor taste.”
And the vast majority of people upset about it were mainstream Democrats, ones who have alluded to liking Medicare-for-all.
Criticizing Joy Gray for asking that question to Harris is willfully ignoring the substance of her ask.
Harris has had her own mixed relationship with healthcare, coming out in favor of Medicare-for-all. But after a debate where she pledged to support it, she walked it back the next day, saying she misunderstood the question.
But something like coronavirus shows where the fault lines are in the Democratic party and what its allusions to supporting Medicare-for-all really mean.
That’s the question Sanders’ team is asking. It’s not trolling Harris to ask what happens in the next pandemic. Do we need to go through Congress again to ensure that testing is free? And why do people at death’s door from COVID-19 deserve the unconditional support and full backing of the government, when people suffering from chronic illness do not?
Before this pandemic exploded, people touted the fact that flu kills tens of thousands of people a year as a way to minimize the concern over this. But that asks a more important question.
Why are those people responsible for the costs of that illness—which they contracted through no fault of their own—but should not need to pay for coming down with the coronavirus?
If there ever was a time for Democrats, after a year of touting their supposed belief in the principles of Medicare-for-all, to come out in favor of it, this is it. Nothing will ever give them a better argument.
But instead, they ready to support they only policy they’ve never wavered on in primaries: The tweets are too mean.