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Supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hold signs during an event on healthcare September 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

How to Win the Holiday Healthcare Debate With Your Conservative Relatives

Like 99% of Americans, Uncle Joe would benefit from the change if he only knew the truth.

Fran Quigley

We all know the scenario. The one relative we never see except for holiday family gatherings is holding forth, blasting on high volume political opinions delivered straight from Fox News.

 Let’s say it’s Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving dinner. He turns to you and says, “Please tell me you are not supporting that socialist Medicare for All garbage that is going to bankrupt us all, and make me wait three years for heart surgery!”

How do you respond?

Of course, one option is to just head for the liquor cabinet and/or dessert table, drowning out familial ignorance with alcohol or sugar. If that’s your holiday tradition, no judgment here.

But you can also directly engage with Uncle Joe, making the case for Medicare for All on his own terms. Like 99% of Americans, Uncle Joe would benefit from the change if he only knew the truth:

Medicare for All is good for Red, White, and Blue business. U.S. businesses compete at a serious disadvantage with companies in universal healthcare nations. International competitors are not saddled with huge and unpredictable costs for insuring their employees, nor the annual headache of choosing among convoluted and expensive health insurance plans for the company.  Uncle Joe respects men of wealth (women of wealth not so much, but that’s another argument . . .), so tell him that Warren Buffet calls our healthcare system the tapeworm of U.S. competitiveness.

If the afternoon’s football games are boring, fire up the excellent film Fix It: Healthcare at the Tipping Point (free online here). Fix It makes the Medicare for All case from the business owner’s perspective. A Pennsylvania picture frame manufacturer and his workers tell the story about how healthcare costs hurt their business. A Canadian business owner goes on camera to say he is a dedicated conservative, and that his counterparts in the U.S. are crazy not to hand over healthcare challenges to the government so they can focus on building their business.

Our current healthcare system enables the worst kind of welfare. Uncle Joe can talk for hours about the evils of freeloading off the government, so he should know that there is no worse offender than the for-profit healthcare industry. Pharma corporations are fully dependent on taxpayer-funded research, government-granted monopolies, and no-negotiation government bulk purchases of their product. More and more conservatives are seeing the light, refusing to support an industry that embodies corporate welfare. Uncle Joe’s favorite president has said the companies are “getting away with murder” and conservative advocates write angry articles with titles like “The Free Market is Coming for Pharma.”  Other countries with systems like Medicare for All use their negotiating power to rein in pharma profits and prices.

For-profit health insurance corporations are no better. They leech off of Uncle Joe’s tax dollars by burrowing their way into Medicare , Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act exchanges, grabbing billions of dollars of profits in the process. Their business model is also dependent on the extensive tax incentives the government uses to spur us to pay private insurance premiums. Why should hard working Uncle Joe pay taxes just so CEO’s can make tens of millions a year?     

Medicare for All provides freedom for entrepreneurs. American ingenuity represented by independent small business makes Uncle Joe swell with patriotic pride. But the desperate need to get affordable health insurance through the workplace blocks creative, hard-working Americans from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. Medicare for All would allow Uncle Joe to finally launch that MAGA swag online business he’s been dreaming about while he toils away working 9 to 5 for The Man.

Medicare for All is endorsed by . . . God. You may think that Uncle Joe’s NRA bumper sticker is in conflict with the Jesus magnet he stuck right next to it. But he doesn’t. So, remind him that, across the faith spectrum, both holy scriptures and current denomination doctrines demand we  guarantee healthcare for all. Other countries with Medicare for All-type systems fulfill the mandate from Uncle Joe’s holy book. (And Uncle Mohammed’s and Uncle Sol‘s, too.) When it comes to healthcare, it’s time for the U.S. to get right with God.

Don’t believe the for-profit healthcare “Deep State.” Conspiracies are all around us, Uncle Joe can assure you. Let him know that you agree, at least when it comes to healthcare. The for-profit industry that is a world-leader in buying political favor and hiring Brooks Brothers-wearing Washington lobbyists spends millions to spread lies about what Medicare for All would be.

In fact, as we have covered in Faith in Healthcare before, Medicare for All will save us money, provide better healthcare for more people—and yes, let Uncle Joe keep his doctor and not face crazy wait times. The only losers will be fat cat healthcare executives and their swamp-dwelling lobbyists, along with elitist Kennedys and Clintons (hey, you have to speak Uncle Joe’s language) finally paying their fair share of taxes.

Psychologists caution us that people rarely change their beliefs instantly. But information and emotion that pulls in a different direction can gradually lead to a switch in point of view. So, consider the persuasion of Uncle Joe as a war of attrition. If you share some of the points above, you have done enough for one holiday gathering.

Leave Uncle Joe ranting about the Kennedys and Clintons now, and go help yourself to another slice of pumpkin pie. You deserve it.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Fran Quigley

Fran Quigley directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

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