Skip to main content

Expand Medicare for all Americans

By Vijay Das
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
A Medicare patient has a checkup. Some legislators are urging that the federal health insurance program cover all Americans.
A Medicare patient has a checkup. Some legislators are urging that the federal health insurance program cover all Americans.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vijay Das: Nearly 50 years old, Medicare has been a success and has improved health care
  • He says we should extend Medicare health coverage to assure quality care for all
  • Das: Report optimistic on Medicare' solvency: It's efficient and just way for universal care
  • Das: U.S. only major nation in industrialized world that doesn't guarantee right of health care

Editor's note: Vijay Das is a health care advocate for Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter @vijdas. Public Citizen is a progressive, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works on behalf of citizen interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the courts. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN) -- On this date, July 30, nearly a half-century ago, the United States achieved a major victory. Medicare, the nation's first national health insurance program, was born. As part of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, Medicare extended health coverage to seniors who inevitably needed care. It's been a well-accepted success and highlights the benefits of improving health care access.

But despite Monday's cautiously optimistic report on Medicare's solvency, a sustainable and comprehensive health care system requires covering everybody. Expanding Medicare for all is the fairest, most effective and straightforward way to ensure universal coverage in America.

Vijay Das
Vijay Das

With Medicare, seniors have greater access to care. Yet most people deal with an overly complex system that fails to provide the same benefits our seniors receive. Even after the passage of Obamacare, unacceptable burdens remain. Consider the health coverage of women.

Today women consume the most health care services. They have greater annual health care expenses than men and pay a greater proportion of their health care costs out-of-pocket. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that about one in five women is still uninsured. More than half these women struggle with their medical bills.

The story is even worse for low-income women, who are more likely to forgo treatment because of its cost. About 4 million low-income women can cover only themselves and are unable to receive financial support to purchase insurance for their families.

Women make up two-thirds of the low wage workforce -- and only 23% of low-wage jobs provide employer-sponsored health insurance. Obamacare was supposed to help. But 3 million low-income and minority women live in states that have yet to expand Medicaid, leaving them unable to obtain Obamacare's coverage for our most vulnerable families, which was promised in the law.

W.H.: Ruling aside, we're still ahead
Lawmaker's heated Obamacare accusation

To be sure, Obamacare does offer greater protections and support for working women to obtain basic insurance. But with the fluctuating and often excessive premiums, deductibles and co-pays, these bills remain onerous. Accesses to in-network physicians remain restricted.

Women, like so many working Americans, are getting nickel-and-dimed, unable to afford and access comprehensive medical coverage. Our health plans continue to be held hostage by private carriers who must spend on hefty overhead and marketing to guarantee ever-growing profits for their shareholders.

To make matters worse, the courts have further restricted the availability of comprehensive coverage. With the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which gave companies the ability to withhold benefits based on religious grounds, women may lose coverage for basic birth control and reproductive health needs.

It's unconscionable that in the richest nation on Earth, health disparities linger because ordinary people can't obtain good care. Working families continue to wrestle with pocketbook-busting medical expenses and tussle with companies that get in between them and their physician.

It doesn't have to be this way. We could provide hassle-free health care to both men and women just as we do for everyone over 65. By opening Medicare to everyone, we could secure universal coverage and run a more efficient and just system.

Medicare is far from perfect, but the flexible program stands strong. By expanding it, we can better pay for quality care and bargain with hospitals, drug companies and device firms on behalf of everyday people. All Americans could obtain quality care from any physician. And similar to how they do it in most wealthy nations, the government will reimburse the provider or company for that care. Businesses could focus on staying competitive rather than haggling with insurance companies over costly health plans for their workers.

We can fund the plan by preserving how we pay for health care and asking our very well-off to contribute a little more. The government would levy a small increase in payroll taxes on employers -- who would no longer have to pay health plan premiums -- and also issue a small tax on stock and bond transactions.

A single-payer health care system built off Medicare would guarantee universal coverage and far better health outcomes. To that end, Michigan's U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat, has again introduced his Medicare-For-All proposal. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, have introduced a similar version.

Outside our nation's capital, Vermont is working to implement universal coverage for its residents next year, aiming to serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

As Sanders said, "The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people."

What America is doing on health care isn't working for either men or women. If we want to join the rest of the industrialized world, we must increase eligibility to the widely popular program, Medicare, which celebrates its 49th anniversary on Wednesday. The nation deserves a system that values wellness above profits, and progress over inertia and false starts.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT