Major companies in the healthcare industry from drugmakers to hospitals to insurers are partnering up and spending big money to ward off public support for Medicare for All.
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future includes Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the American Medical Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals, among others. It’s name is intentionally nondescript, but its purpose is to advocate against Medicare for All or other single-payer insurance options on behalf of the healthcare industry.
Over the past few months, the Partnership has dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning against Medicare for All and the proposal’s author Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), while supporting the more moderate public option proposals from the center-right of the Democratic presidential field, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s public option.
About half of the television ads identified by OpenSecrets air in Iowa, the location of the first and arguably most influential primary caucus, while online ads are targeting a wide swath of battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona.
The deep pockets of the healthcare industry and the way their sponsorship shapes the public conversation is not lost on Sanders, who pointed out that insurers would be buying ad time during CNN’s July debates in Detroit as moderators challenged proposed progressive health policies.
Sanders was right — they did.
“The politicians may call it Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in or the public option,” says the ad that aired on CNN during the debates. “But they mean the same thing. Higher taxes or higher premiums, lower quality care.”
“[Medicare for All] is a slippery slope to government-run health care for every American,” said David Merritt, an executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for insurers and member of the Partnership.
Sanders shot back at the Partnership and the health industry in general.
“I asked the health care industry … a simple question: You made a hundred billion dollars in profit last year, how much are you going to be spending of that $100 billion to oppose Medicare for All?” he said in a video tweeted by his campaign. “Is it $200 million? Is it $500 million? Is it a billion dollars in order to protect your profits?”
Today I asked the health care industry a simple question:
How much will you spend to defeat Medicare for All?
Is it $200 million? Is it $500 million?
They can spend all the money they want. We're going to beat them. pic.twitter.com/cjjCVbOBsc
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 10, 2019
While most of the Democratic 2020 field supports some form of expansion toward government-sponsored healthcare, insurers and the Partnership instead support an expansion of the existing Affordable Care Act (colloquially called Obamacare.) Obamacare was developed with intense lobbying from the healthcare industry and initially included a public option, but that option was dropped from the final bill thanks to pressure from the industry.
Lauren Crawford Shafer, the Partnership’s executive director, wrote an opinion piece for The Hill earlier this year where she blasted public options, Medicare for All and other reforms, instead favoring increasing the subsidies available under Obamacare that are a huge boon to insurers.
“What an outrage we currently see,” continued Sanders, “87 million people cannot afford the healthcare they need — they’re underinsured or they’re uninsured — and we have an industry that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to protect their profits.”
In his own opinion piece at Buzzfeed, Sanders specifically called out the Partnership as the Partnership to Protect Health Industry Profits and called them a front group for the broader healthcare industry. This came after The Intercept obtained lobbying documents in which the Partnership laid out their goal to change the conversation around Medicare for All to keep it off the Democratic Party’s formal platform in 2020.
Given the questions in Detroit about Medicare for All, the specific goal the Partnership laid out to change the idea of Medicare for All from a left-leaning policy with broad political support to one characterized as a far-left policy with only fringe support seems to be gaining ground.
But Sanders is punching back fiercely.
(Featured image: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.