A decade ago, when I introduced legislation guaranteeing medical care to every American, the proposal was cast as a "radical" and "unrealistic" measure, and I could not convince a single senator to cosponsor the bill.
Ten years later, our Medicare for All bill has widespread support in the House and Senate, and polls show Medicare for All is supported by a majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans.
As the House this week held historic hearings about Medicare for All, we must remember that this transformation did not happen by accident. It happened because Americans from all walks of life understand that we have a dysfunctional health care system designed to make huge profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies, while tens of millions remain uninsured or underinsured and we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
And these Americans are now fighting back. They are not only resisting Trump's efforts to throw 32 million people off the health care they have; they are demanding that health care in the United States be considered a right, not a privilege.
Now, because of these grassroots efforts, we are on the verge of a historic victory — and that reality is prompting a backlash from the powerful special interests that continue to reap hundreds of billions of dollars from the status quo.
But our message must be clear: We must remember the lessons of history and refuse to back down.
This is not going to be an easy fight. To try to stop our movement’s momentum for Medicare for All, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have recently formed a front group called the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. In reality, this is a partnership to protect health industry profits. Through deceptive ads, the group’s goal is to try to persuade legislators to oppose Medicare for All, or divide and confuse us with weaker proposals.
This group’s members aren’t patients or consumers or people impacted by our current health care system — they are insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying group. These groups spent $143 million on lobbying in 2018 to try to preserve a system that is a disaster for millions of Americans, but that is making big money for CEOs. In 2017 alone, while Americans were getting crushed by higher premiums and prescription drug prices, the top 65 health care CEOs made $1.7 billion in compensation, and the 25 highest-paid CEOs in the pharmaceutical industry made roughly $440 million.
So it should be no surprise that these companies and their political groups will spend enormous sums of money to try to stop us.
But let us be absolutely clear: These frantic attempts to derail our progress are a sign that we are winning — and that means we cannot rest, we cannot back down, and we cannot accept any substitute.
We must stand firm in unequivocally declaring that through a Medicare for All system, we are going to make health care a human right for all people in this country. Our bill expands Medicare to cover all people and to cover long-term care. It will reduce overall health care spending and finally end the situation whereby Americans are forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying for medicine.
And here is some good news to remember as we begin the 2020 presidential election campaign: If we keep pushing, history suggests that we will be victorious.
Recall that in the mid–20th century, President Harry Truman first proposed guaranteeing health care to seniors. This idea was billed as radical, “un-American,” and an attack on basic freedom that would be a political loser. And because of that withering assault, the idea stalled in Congress for years — until voters made their voices heard.
In 1960, America elected John F. Kennedy after he campaigned in support of Truman’s idea. That election prompted a health care bill to finally begin being debated in Congress, and Kennedy at the time noted that “what we are now talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago.”
Of course, the legislation was initially blocked by Republicans and conservative Democrats, who argued that if the proposal passed, it would be nothing short of the end of the republic. Americans, though, were not deterred — they fought back with a 1964 election landslide that was so enormous, the new Congress was all but forced to immediately pass what is now known as Medicare.
“It took a big election, with voters changing the balance of power on Capitol Hill,” as Princeton historian Julian Zelizer wrote.
More than a half-century after that achievement, we are now at a similar moment in American history.
This is a moment that requires us to say louder and more clearly than ever that health care is a human right, not a privilege.
This is a moment to say that we cannot accept any more Americans dying or going bankrupt for lack of medical care.
This is a moment to proudly declare that Medicare for All’s time has come.
In short, this is a moment to stand up, not stand down. If we do that, we will win.