Poll Shows Public Wants Medicare for All

Despite the infamous Max Baucus Senate committee's long-anticipated rejection of even a fig leaf of a public health care "option," public opinion remains remarkably firm in support of allowing everyone access to a comprehensive government health plan. A New York Times/CBS News survey last week provided the best polling evidence in recent months that most people favor a public option that is a lot more "robust" than anything the Congress is offering, aside from straight-up single payer.

The poll once again confirms that something very much like single payer remains an idea whose time has come. After all these month's of the Obama Administration's attempts to shrivel into near nothingness the very concept of health care "reform," and despite the mad howlings of Republicans about the evils of "socialized medicine," two-thirds of the American people still support a Medicare-like government health care plan. Unlike some recent surveys, the language of the pollsters' question was straightforward and unambiguous:

"Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans?"

That is the definition of a very "robust" public health care option. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they were in favor.

It's a pity that the New York Times and CBS News neglected to ask how the public feels about a full-blown single payer plan, which has for years commanded strong majorities. But the poll does show conclusively that Americans overwhelmingly endorse expanding Medicare to all who want it - and let the private insurers sink or swim on their own.

Still, it is a wonderment that, with all the disinformation from the Hard Right, and almost a year of backroom dealing, backstabbing and dissembling from President Obama and other corporate Democrats, who have mangled reform into a giant subsidy for the privateers, the people still know what they want: Medicare for all, at the very least.

The tragedy is, none of the bills under serious consideration by House and Senate committees provides anything close to what the public desires. As my colleague Bruce Dixon has written, the "robust" public option does not exist in any practical sense. (See BAR, "The President, Progressives, and the Myth of the Robust Public Option," September 9, 2009.) A version of Medicare for all does exist, in the form of Rep. John Conyers' HR 676, the Enhanced Medicare For All single payer bill - but the measure is anathema to President Obama, who spent most of his energies marginalizing Conyers and his allies in the early months of the administration. Obama has consistently (and viciously) tried to depict single payers and their "robust" fellow travelers as the "extremist" lefty mirror images of rightwing "tea-baggers." Yet at the end of the day, the public center of gravity on health care remains situated in the political realm of the Congressional Progressive and Black Caucuses. Obama is way off to the Right somewhere, in the general vicinity of his soul mate Sen. Baucus, whom the president early on empowered as his health care torchbearer (more like fire-quencher).

The NYT/CBS poll shows the public is not in the least confused about what it wants from the president and the congress on the health care front. Rather, they are befuddled about what Obama wants (55 percent say he has not clearly explained himself), and near-totally up in the air about what the Republicans want (76 percent don't understand the GOP's position). The more the people learn about both, the less they'll like either of them.

Which brings me to the most uplifting aspect of the poll: It is the best recent evidence that Obama has not succeeded in narrowing public perceptions of the scope of health care "reform" to fit his own puny, corporate-vetted positions. The real reform genie is permanently out of the bottle, and he is quite "robust."

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