Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Single-payer healthcare advocates march in a Medicare for All rally in Los Angeles on February 4, 2017. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Single-payer healthcare advocates march in a Medicare for All rally in Los Angeles on February 4, 2017. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Medicare for None: A Response to the State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2021

Proponents of a state-based universal healthcare approach believe states can be incubators for change, and that ultimately, once one state shows the way, all states will follow—but we have yet to see any evidence of this.

Ana MalinowKay Tillow

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequities, inefficiencies, and ineffectiveness of our healthcare system. If there was ever a time for healthcare reform, this is it. But some healthcare activists and their progressive allies, suffering from the frustration and disillusion brought on by the refusal of President Joe Biden and Congress to consider structural reform, have accepted this defeat and turned to state-based reform, jeopardizing Medicare across the country. Healthcare is a national responsibility. To palm it off to states is a step backwards: the dream of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan to shrink the federal government.

The U.S. doesn't need to dismantle Medicare, it needs to improve it and expand it to every person.

Based on the historical precedents set by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the story of Medicaid expansion serves as a cautionary tale to those who’d like to leave healthcare to the states.

On June 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Congress's attempt to provide near-universal health coverage by mandating individuals and employers to purchase health insurance, expanding Medicaid by lowering eligibility criteria, and widening health insurance protections. The court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate but gave states the "option" not to expand Medicaid, calling expansion "unconstitutionally coercive." With this ruling, the Supreme Court opened the door to the balkanization of the ACA: those that expanded Medicaid, those that considered it, and those that would oppose it permanently. It gave the southern states a political out and allowed the further racialization of Medicaid.

Of the original 26 states that brought the case before the Supreme Court, 12, mostly southern states with large populations of color, have not expanded Medicaid, two have passed but not yet implemented expansion, and three only did so last year. A decade after the passage of the bill, these are the states that suffer the worst health outcomes: when compared to expansion states, non-expansion states have seen worse overall mortality rates, more hospital closures, and even higher high school dropout rates. In 2018, states that did not expand Medicaid passed up $43 billion in federal funds.

With the reintroduction of Congressman Ro Khanna’s State-based Universal Health Care Act of 2021, we are about to see a similar balkanization of Medicare, the one national program that guarantees healthcare to everyone over the age of 65. The act, which would offer pass-through federal fund waivers, including Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare, Exchange, and federal employee health benefit dollars, to states with a plan to provide comprehensive health benefits to 95% of its residents (defined as citizens or lawfully residing immigrants) within five years, would end Medicare as we know it.

Obtaining a waiver under this act does not set single payer as the model to achieve universal healthcare. In fact, states might choose to go the way of the ACA, a mishmash of employer and individual mandates, greater expansion of Medicaid, and more generous subsidies for the Exchanges. The act would base benefits on the ACA, thus, significant gaps, such as no prescription drug coverage, limited reproductive rights, and no long-term care, would persist. There is nothing in the act that precludes giving Medicare money to private insurance companies, strengthening profit-driven companies to pursue obscene profits and deny care elsewhere. The U.S. would become a nation of 50 different healthcare tiers, at war with each other over federal dollars. States could band into a region to request a waiver application, pitting regions against one another. States unwilling to cover their residents could sit it out, much like the states sitting out Medicaid expansion, creating yet another form of racism and uneven health outcomes. If challenged in court, this new expansion could be ruled "coercive" again, giving some states a political out. But this time, seniors in non-universal states would see their Medicare dollars shunted over to states that provide their residents some form of healthcare. This is the dismantling of Medicare.

Proponents of a state-based universal healthcare approach believe states can be incubators for change, and that ultimately, once one state shows the way, all states will follow. We have yet to see any evidence of this in the U.S., and to bet Medicare on this flawed proposal seems unwise. The Supreme Court ruling set a precedent that states can use federal healthcare dollars as they see fit. Instead of seeing this as the problem, the sponsors of this bill see it as an opportunity to compromise: allow southern states to gut Medicare while allowing more progressive states to "have" universal healthcare.

The U.S. doesn't need to dismantle Medicare, it needs to improve it and expand it to every person. The country must replace its broken, fragmented, profit-driven and racist system with a universal, affordable, accountable, comprehensive, evidence-based, equitable, single-payer national Medicare for all, not Medicare for none. Every resident of every state deserves this. This is something on which we can all agree.


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

Ana Malinow

Dr. Ana Malinow has  spent her career taking care of undocumented, refugee, and poor children in Cleveland, Houston and Pittsburgh before moving to San Francisco, where she is currently practicing as a general pediatrician. She is past President of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), an organization of 20,000 health care providers that support single payer national health care.

Kay Tillow

Kay Tillow is the coordinator of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, which builds union support for H.R. 676. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. www.unionsforsinglepayer.org

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Breaking: FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine for Kids 5 to 11

With just one abstention, the advisory panel voted 17-0 to approve the vaccine for younger children which scientific review has deemed both safe and effective against the deadly virus.

Common Dreams staff ·



Latest UN Climate Report Delivers 'Another Thundering Wake-Up Call'

"Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem," said the UNEP executive director. "The clock is ticking loudly."

Jessica Corbett ·


Climate Movement Hails 'Mind-Blowing' $40 Trillion in Fossil Fuel Divestment Pledges

"Institutions around the world must step up now and commit to joining the divest-invest movement before it is too late—for them, for the economy, and for the world."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Really Fantastic': Europe's Largest Pension Fund Announces Fossil Fuel Divestment

It's "a huge victory for the climate, human rights, and all life on Earth," said one activist.

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo