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Virginia Democrats split on Medicare for All Proposals

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

The Democratic Party seems to be moving to the left with most of its high-profile presidential candidates embracing proposals like Medicare for All.

But Virginia Democrats are resisting the trend.

Back in 2016 Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was laughed off by many pundits for being an avowed democratic socialist but his populist social agenda resonated and experts say he was able to force his opponent, Hillary Clinton, to move further to the left. This year, it seems every Democrat running for President is to the left of where Sanders was back then. 

While walking along the tram under the Capitol Sanders brushes aside President Trump’s criticism of proposed Medicare for All plans. "If Canada can do it, if the UK can do it, I kind of think the United States can also guarantee health care to all people in a cost-effective way,” Sanders said.

In Virginia only Democratic Congressmen Don Beyer and Bobby Scott are cosponsoring the Medicare for All effort. Scott has been calling for something like this since back in 2009 when lawmakers debated and passed the Affordable Care Act.  At the time, he wanted to include a so-called public option so people could sign up for federal government run health care which was seen by many experts as a path to eventually having a single payer system.   "Without a public option, people in many states would be mandated to buy insurance from a sole source, for-profit corporation without any limit on what it can charge," Scott argued in 2009. "We know that’s not fair.”  

While so-called Obamacare was dubbed ‘a socialist overreach’ by Republicans, in reality it merely expanded the nation’s private insurance marketplace by providing some subsidies to many previously uninsured Americans. But now that most Democratic presidential candidates are embracing single payer healthcare, the charges of socialism are back with a vengeance.

But freshman Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger laughs off the socialist label President Trump and other GOP leaders are lobbing around.    “I think they’re not listening," Spanberger said. "Anybody who says that, I think is not listening to the majority of members of the Democratic caucus. The beauty of the Democratic caucus is we are a broad and diverse group of people with a broad and expansive set of goals and ideas, but we do unify around very specific points, which is we don’t want people choosing between paying their rent and paying for their prescription drugs.”

Health care was the number one issue I heard about....

Spanberger says her party’s message did resonate with voters, even if they’re now being mislabeled. “Health care was the number one issue I heard about across the campaign trail.”

Spanberger wants this new Congress to focus on shoring up the existing health care system and on lowering prescription drug prices. She says her whole party is unified in wanting universal coverage but the devil’s in the details.  “So I think it’s a little bit of an interesting discussion now, because some people who do use the Medicare for All vocabulary are not actually talking about a single-payer system where it is just a single-payer government-run health care program," Spanberger said. "Part of the conversation is having a leveling discussion about what we’re actually talking about.”

Northern Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly was almost ousted after voting in favor of so-called Obamacare so he’s rejecting calls for overhauling the current federal health system.  “For me to support any competing system is tantamount to saying I give up on trying to protect and enhance the Affordable Care Act and I am unwilling to say that.”

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine is pushing his Medicare X plan that would create a low-cost public health insurance option without completely upending the private insurance market. Still, he welcomes the debate his party is having.   “I love being part of the party that wants people to have health insurance rather than part of the party that’s trying to health insurance away from millions of people,” Kaine said.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.