by Keaton Weiss
Progressives have been widely sharing the new Op-ed in The New York Times by its editorial board member Jeneen Interlandi entitled “Employer-Based Health Care, Meet Massive Unemployment.” Finally, it seems, liberal establishment outlets have realized the necessity for universal healthcare in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And sure, on its face, it’s nice to see the Times publish a piece like this. Call it better late than never, I suppose. But as Lefties who have been on board with Medicare For All for years already, our response to Interlandi’s article should be more than just a moral victory lap. Because despite the highly shareable headline, the piece still gets quite a bit wrong, and most of what it gets right is such old news that it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that we were out in front of this issue long before the liberal intelligentsia caught on.
The article begins:
“In the early months of 2020, Americans were engaged in the perennial election-year debate over how best to reform the nation’s health care system. As usual, the electorate was torn and confused. Polling indicated that a small majority of likely voters favored a new universal system that would cover everyone. But that support evaporated when it was made clear that any such overhaul would involve abolishing the private insurance market.”
First, “Americans” were not engaged in a healthcare reform debate. Democrats were engaged in this debate, because of the Democratic presidential primary. Second, the polling she cites is not from early 2020, but from early 2019, and among those polled, an overwhelming majority of Democrats, 81%, supported a “national health plan” with a single payer government system. And despite the year-long Orwellian propaganda blitz against such a plan (ie, it’s going to take people’s healthcare away; George himself couldn’t have come up with that one), exit polls consistently showed majority support for Medicare For All throughout the Democratic primary contests. So while this opening paragraph frames single payer healthcare as a precarious idea from the outset that collapsed under scrutiny, the reality is that Medicare For All was highly popular among those actually discussing it in the first place, and remained so despite the centrist Democrats and their media collaborators’ (who themselves happen to generate huge ad revenues from big pharma) non-stop misinformation campaign to undermine its appeal.
As it turns out, The New York Times editorial board itself expressed “agnosticism” about a single payer system as recently as, yes, “early 2020.” Jeneen Interlandi said as much herself on “The Choice,” the Times’ podcast documenting its presidential endorsement process. After the board interviewed Bernie Sanders, editorial page editor Katie Kingsbury asked Interlandi where the board stood on the issue of healthcare. She answered:
“The board recognizes healthcare as a human right, which means that we support the goal of insuring that all people have access to a reasonable standard of healthcare. But I think we remain agnostic on the question of how to get there. Medicare For All certainly has a lot of features that we want to see in any final solution. But we share the electorate’s concerns about one, the political feasibility of getting a plan like that through Congress at this particular moment, and two, frankly, the federal government’s ability to manage such a plan fairly.”
Then, predictably, Kingsbury posed the question, “What about how we would pay for it?” To which Jeneen replied:
“I think that’s a big open question, and that’s one of the reasons that we have reservations. Like, how do you pay for it?”
And of course, we all know how their endorsement proceedings concluded: a dual endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, herself an agnostic on the issue, and Ms. How-Are-You-Gonna-Pay-For-It herself, Amy Klobuchar. Though it seemed odd at first for a paper such as the Times to endorse two candidates in the same primary, Warren and Klobuchar together best represent the publication’s stance on Medicare For All: in Warren, we see the “Let’s do it, but just not right away,” and in Klobuchar, we see the “Ah, never mind, forget it.”
And despite some promising rhetoric in Interlandi’s recent piece, it becomes clear as you read it that she never had the kind of revelation that the piece’s headline implies.
To her credit, she does demonstrate how the pandemic has taken a wrecking ball to the house of cards that is our employer-based healthcare system. She also does an adequate job documenting the history of such a system, how it came to be, and what its inadequacies were and still are today. She even incorporates some staggering statistics into her reporting, particularly, that “if American health care were its own country, it would be the fourth largest in the world by gross domestic product.”
Most of the article, however, is common knowledge for anyone who’s actually bothered to check under the hood of the American health care system, or to those who themselves have borne the brunt of its brutalities. For example, she writes:
America has created the most expensive, least effective health care system in the modern world, and the most vulnerable Americans have been paying for that failure with their lives since long before the coronavirus came to town.
You don’t say!
In many ways, of course, that system is no system at all. It’s a patchwork in which access to care depends on a roster of factors, including age, employment status and state of residence. It’s a free-for-all in which the prices of life-or-death essentials like insulin and heart surgery are set at whatever the market will bear, and efforts to check those prices are routinely bludgeoned by interest groups that hold enormous sway over lawmakers. It’s a labyrinth in which consultants, billing clerks and administrators vastly outnumber medical professionals. And it’s a voracious beast that feeds American households with well-paying jobs, then devours them with insurmountable medical bills — often at their weakest moments.
Uh huh. In other news, cigarettes are bad for you.
But wait, there’s more:
“Perhaps worst of all, employees of every ilk frequently find themselves trapped: changing jobs, foregoing employment or taking professional risks (like starting a business) all involve changes in health insurance and, in the worst case scenario, a loss of coverage. The end result is a medical underclass whose horizons are contracted by the sheer logistics of hanging on to health care.”
Wow. This really is “all the news that’s fit to print.”
But all joking aside, it’s encouraging to know that the enlightened class who read publications like the Times are finally being made aware of the decades-old failings of America’s healthcare system. This piece seems poised to conclude with an unequivocal call to action to abolish for-profit health insurance and join the rest of the civilized world by creating a humane egalitarian model in its wake. After all, employer based healthcare is only necessary in the first place because individual private plans are prohibitively expensive (as Jeneen herself spells out, “employers have more bargaining power than individuals”). So clearly, the solution is to get rid of private health insurance and transition to a single payer system that guarantees care to everyone, free at the point of service, funded through progressive taxation and re-allocation of funds which are currently spent elsewhere (ie, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc). At last, even the Times gets it. Right?
Interlandi does acknowledge that healthcare must be treated as a human right, and we therefore must transition away from the employer-based model. However, rather than come out decisively for a single payer system, she concludes:
There’s no shortage of ideas for how to accomplish this goal. A single-payer system in which one entity (usually the federal government) covers every citizen regardless of age or employment status, could work. So could a new “public option” that makes federally guaranteed health insurance available to many more people. Any such choice will involve trade-offs and will need to be accompanied by other aggressive reforms, including price controls and checks on the influence of special interests over legislation.
Any of these reforms will be politically difficult. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Republicans are still trying to gut the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats are still divided over how best to respond to that threat. But if there were ever a time to take bold steps — or to finally undo the mistakes of the past — it’s now.
So you see, in the end, her stance on healthcare hasn’t actually changed much, if at all, since January of this year, when she expressed her “agnosticism” about Medicare For All. Despite the pandemic, mass unemployment, and her own lengthy Op-ed decrying the evils of our for-profit system, she still cannot bring herself to go all-in on what is now, more than ever, so obviously the correct position. Instead, she does what liberals always do, even in times as dire as these: overthink, overcomplicate, over-explain, and underperform.
The liberal line on issue after issue is “We need bold action, yes, but there are many ideas on the table, and we have to carefully examine each one of them to determine which is most practical, and understand that no matter which one we pick it’s going to be really difficult to implement because these issues are very complex, and we can’t be too demanding of the Democrats, because they’re doing the best they can while fending off the evil Republicans’ attempts to stymy them at every turn, and so we have to be very careful about how we talk about these things so we don’t lose the election, because then the Supreme Court will go more conservative,” and so on and so forth.
This paralysis by analysis approach is not only destined to fail, it’s designed to fail. Because when liberal writers, thinkers, and voters are more concerned with being right than doing right, their obsession with detail, nuance and foresight hamstrings their ability to organize behind an actionable agenda and pressure their liberal politicians, whose real goal is to sound right and do nothing.
Contrast this style of politics with the one being practiced as we speak by thousands of protestors all over the country making simple, direct demands of their elected officials to defund local police departments. Those movements are achieving meaningful results very quickly, precisely because of the simplicity and urgency of their message. Had they agonized over exactly what the mechanisms, implications, limitations, and consequences of their proposals would be, none of their ideas would have come to fruition, because such contemplation would have inevitably splintered their movement by highlighting the disagreements among its rank and file. Instead, they’re winning because they’re unified, they’re loud and clear in their demands, and they’re leaving it to their officials to sort out the details.
It would behoove everyone, especially Times enthusiasts, to take a page from the protestors’ book right now if they really want to help create a humane and civilized healthcare system. Moments like these call for moral conviction and clarity of purpose, not contemplation and second guessing. We need action, not agnosticism.
New York Times, meet reality.
Photo: Brittainy Newman, New York Times