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As Energy for Medicare for All Soars, Pelosi Aide Reportedly Assured Insurance Industry That Democratic Leaders Remain 'Allies'

"Seventy percent of Americans support Medicare for All. Congress should listen to the people, not water down and stifle policy supported by the majority."

"In the House, even as the idea has picked up momentum with voters and members of the Democratic caucus, Democratic leadership has remained deeply skeptical," reports The Intercept's Ryan Grim. (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Who supports Medicare for All and who doesn't? It's becoming an increasingly complex question.

As Medicare for All advocates point to surging grassroots energy behind the bold policy and argue that the key question now "is not if we will win, it is when," a report by The Intercept on Tuesday intensified concerns that the Democratic leadership will continue to resist the rising tide of enthusiasm for single-payer even as it is embraced by a growing number of lawmakers, 2020 presidential candidates, and 70 percent of the public.

"Grassroots supporters of universal healthcare may have reason to be less than trusting of the Democratic leadership."
—David Dayen

According to The Intercept, Wendell Primus—the top healthcare adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—reassured Blue Cross Blue Shield executives during a private meeting shortly after the November midterm elections that the Democratic leadership "had strong reservations about single-payer healthcare and was more focused on lowering drug prices."

"Primus detailed five objections to Medicare for All and said that Democrats would be allies to the insurance industry in the fight against single-payer healthcare," reported The Intercept's Ryan Grim, citing anonymous sources familiar with the meeting. "Primus pitched the insurers on supporting Democrats on efforts to shrink drug prices, specifically by backing a number of measures that the pharmaceutical lobby is opposing."

In a slide presentation obtained by The Intercept, Primus parroted some of the most common and easily debunked objections to Medicare for All pushed by its opponents—such as the policy's supposedly high cost—and argued that improving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "is the most cost-effective path to universal coverage":

As Grim pointed out, Democratic leaders themselves have publicly adopted a "deeply skeptical" posture toward Medicare for All even as support for the policy has grown rapidly in Congress and at the grassroots.

"In the House, even as [Medicare for All] has picked up momentum with voters and members of the Democratic caucus, Democratic leadership has remained deeply skeptical," Grim notes. "Pelosi's consistent messaging, instead, has been around protecting the Affordable Care Act and lowering prescription drug prices."

Journalist David Dayen argued that The Intercept's reporting provides progressive activists more reason to "be less than trusting of the Democratic leadership" as they work to make the long-standing aspiration of Medicare for All a reality.

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"It's no secret that the momentum around single-payer, Medicare for All has been building for months," Justice Democrats noted in an email responding to The Intercept's report. "People are rallying around the notion that no American should die or go bankrupt just because they got sick, and that we can finally end the obscene profiteering of insurance corporations."

"But remember: as long as there are Democrats out there who take money from health insurance corporate PACs, there will be people pandering to the people on top instead of the people on the bottom," the group concluded.

Pointing to overwhelming public support for Medicare for All, Our Revolution added that "Congress should listen to the people, not water down and stifle policy supported by the majority."

The Intercept's report comes as Medicare for All is increasingly becoming a "litmus test" for Democrats with serious 2020 presidential aspirations. It also comes as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is expected to unveil Medicare for All legislation as early as next week, just days before National Nurses United (NNU) is set to hold nationwide "barnstorms" on Saturday to help build momentum for single-payer at the local level.

Acknowledging that powerful forces like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will pull out all the stops to prevent Medicare for All from even getting off the ground, NNU declared that only relentless organization and mobilization can overwhelm single-payer opponents on the way to creating a humane and cost-effective healthcare system.

"To build the mass collective action we know we'll need to win, we're asking activists like you across the country to organize a Medicare for All barnstorm in your community as part of a national Medicare for All Week of Action from February 9th-13th," NNU wrote in a petition. "At the barnstorm you'd gather with volunteers near you, talk about the plan to win, and begin organizing to knock doors, make phone calls, and more in your community."

In an interview with the New York Times over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—whose 2016 presidential campaign is credited with pushing Medicare for All into the national conversation—argued that it would be political malpractice to reject Medicare for All in the midst of surging support for an ambitious transformation of the current for-profit system, which leaves tens of millions of Americans completely uninsured.

"Every candidate will make his or her own decisions," the Vermont senator said. "[But] if I look at polling and 70 percent of the people support Medicare for All, if a very significant percentage of people think the rich, the very rich, should start paying their fair share of taxes, I think I'd be pretty dumb not to develop policies that capture what the American people want."

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