Private Insurance v. Medicare for All

Last week, I accompanied Sally Pipes to New York where she participated in a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared. For a decade now, Intelligence Squared has been hosting debates on all issues concerning public policy, from the Middle East, to driverless cars, to one of my recent favorites — is President Trump good or bad for comedy?

Last week’s debate asked if the United States should replace private insurance with Medicare for All. Arguing against the resolution alongside Sally was Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason Magazine.  On the other side was Dr. Adam Gaffney, president of Physicians for a National Health Program and a pulmonary specialist at Harvard Medical School, and Joseph Sandberg, co-founder of financial firm Aspiration and the CalEITC4Me program, a California-based program offering an earned income tax credit.

I had no doubt in my mind that Team Pipes/Gillespie was going down.  Of course they would — in the 2016 presidential campaign, 80 percent of New York City voted Democrat. Single-payer healthcare and Medicare for All is the top issue of all the Democrat debates.  I even arranged a politically incorrect dinner of foie gras (banned in California) and wine to drown our sorrows.

Amazingly, they actually won!

The audience voted 51 percent to oppose replacing private insurance with Medicare for All compared to 40 percent who supported it.  Nine percent were undecided.  What makes victory even sweeter is that in a pre-debate vote, 36 percent favored replacement with Medicare for All, 35 percent were against it, and 29 percent were undecided.  This means that the majority of the undecideds were won over.

What convinced voters? Here’s what the audience had to say:

  • “you [Sally] came across so knowledgeable but also compassionate – and I am sure the Canadian horror stories were a big factor in swaying the crowd!”
  • “…in my opinion, your personal examples swung the vote. No one knows the policy arguments better than you, but no one has all the personal examples either. A great combination!”

Throughout the 90 minutes, Sally named names; real people and their families who suffered in Canada and the United Kingdom where health care is largely run by the government.  From Mick Jagger who opted to fly to New York instead of the U.K. for his emergency heart surgery, to little Ashya King, whose parents were thrown in jail for taking him to Spain because the treatment for his particular cancer was not available in the U.K., and finally, the tragedy of Sally’s own mother.

In her closing argument, Sally appealed to the audiences’ hearts as well as their minds:

“It may sound morally right to have Medicare for all, it may even seem like it’s worth the trade-offs; higher taxes, rationed care, long waits, whatever, in exchange for a program that is supposedly going to give you security through a government-run program. But Medicare for all cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Good intentions can’t fund hospitals, pay doctors, eliminate waiting times, and rationed care. . . . We can stop single-payer from taking root in this country. We can say no to the false promises offered by politicians about Medicare for all.”

You can watch the live debate from Intelligence Squared here.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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