The Politics of Medicare for All: The Corporate Opposition

September 5, 2019

By Jill Zorn |

Note:  This is Part 4 of our Medicare For All Series.  Check out Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

The range of policy proposals under consideration in Congress, as discussed in the two previous blogs (go here and here), reflects the lack of consensus that exists, even among Democrats, about just how far and how fast we should go to fix our broken health care system.  Why is there so much disagreement about the means to getting to universal health care, when the goal is one that is widely shared?

One of the primary reasons is the political and financial strength and influence of those who oppose Medicare for All.

The Health Care Industrial Complex

Even before the debate around Medicare for All was fully engaged, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Hospitals and, until very recently, the American Medical Association, got together to fund a lobbying group to fight back.  As usual, the group has a benign sounding name:  Partnership for America’s Health Care Future.  They spent $143 million last year and are sure to spend more in 2019.

It’s important to note that this group opposes ANY changes that mean an expanded role for government in purchasing health care or protecting consumers from predatory industry practices.  They aren’t just opposed to Medicare for All, they are against Medicare for More or Medicare for Some plans, too.  Medicare pays less than private insurance for hospital and physician care.  Watering down policy, which is happening partly in an effort to placate them, will not satisfy them.  Moreover, since all of the bills include a provision for Medicare to finally be able to negotiate prescription drug prices, none of them are acceptable to prescription drug corporations.

As one advocate pointed out, a more apt name for the group might be, “Partnership for Profiting Off America’s Health Care.”

Interestingly, the American Medical Association pulled out of the Partnership in August, responding to growing pressure from its members that they are on the wrong side of the issue.   According to an article in Politico, while they may not be ready to get on the Medicare for All bandwagon, they were uncomfortable with the Partnership’s opposition to even incremental public option approaches.

Messaging Wars

In November of last year, The Intercept published an article that included excerpts of the lobbying group’s “battle plans“.  These internal documents reveal a multi-pronged strategy to peel away Beltway insiders from supporting Medicare for All and move candidates for the presidency and Congress toward more “moderate” positions.

A big aim is also to convince the public that Medicare for All is not in their best interest.

“The campaign has worked with advertising agencies to draw up a series of messages to convince select audiences. Several of the messages, categorized as ‘positive,’ are dedicated to educating the public on more minimal reforms that do not include expanding Medicare. Other messages, categorized as ‘persuasion’ and ‘aggressive,’ are designed to instill fear about what could happen if ‘Medicare for All’ passes.”

This CT Mirror article quotes the executive director of the Partnership,  “Whether it’s called Medicare for all, Medicare buy-in or the public option, the results will be the same: Americans will be forced to pay more and wait longer for worse care.” Other tropes emerging from this group include “one-size fits-all” health plans and “bureaucrats and politicians” determining your care.

They don’t have to yell “socialism” to get their message across – they can leave that up to others.  Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example: “You want to turn America into a socialist country?  This is the first step.”

One of the favorite phrases of the opposition, which has been adopted by almost every media outlet writing about Medicare for All, is “government-run health care”.  They like to contrast that phrase with  “private” insurance.  The message is: “government: bad/private: good.” Many polls use the same language.

We have seen this playbook before.  As a recent report, Parroting the Right, describes:

“This language was not adopted by chance….A series of leaked strategy memos and decades of news articles and polls reveals that the word “government” was rarely used in surveys before the 1990s or in the mainstream press before 2007 as a way to define publicly financed and administered health care. Only after the health insurance industry and a small cadre of Republican strategists crafted and pushed this phrasing for their own financial and electoral gain did the press and pollsters widely adopt this terminology.”

The influence of monied interests on the Medicare for All debate can not be underestimated.  Time and again, they have had the power, through messaging, paid ads, lobbying, campaign donations and as a major employer to stop health reform in its tracks.  They prevented the inclusion of a public option in the ACA.  More recently, the insurance industry succeeded in preventing a public option bill from passing here in Connecticut, when Cigna made veiled threats to move its headquarters out of state.

Already, this effort appears to be bearing fruit, if you believe this recent blog post from the Partnership web site, “ICYMI: ‘Democrats Back Off Once-Fervent Embrace Of Medicare-For-All’  Whether this is true, or is just wishful thinking on their part, remains to be seen.

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