Bernie Sanders Calls Out Anti-Medicare for All ‘Front Group’

Bernie Sanders singled out insurance and pharmaceutical industry “front group” Partnership for America's Health Care Future in a new editorial for Buzzfeed calling on supporters of Medicare for All legislation to “refuse to back down.”

“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,” Sanders, a leading candidate for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, writes. “I 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.”

But Sanders cautions that, even with Medicare for All's overwhelming public support, a backlash from “powerful special interests that continue to reap hundreds of billions of dollars from the status quo” will make passage of universal, single-payer healthcare a difficult fight. Sanders specifically calls out the Partnership for America's Health Care Future (PAHCF), an alliance of private interests—including lobbyists from the health insurance, private hospital and pharmaceutical industry—formed in the summer of 2018.

Slides from a PAHCF presentation leaked to The Intercept outline two primary objectives for the alliance: “change the national conversation around single payer/Medicare for All” and “minimize the potential for this option in health care from becoming part of a national political party's platform in 2020.”

To pursue their goal of thwarting Medicare for All, which not only enjoys broad popular support but also shares 122 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate, the Partnership for America's Health Care Future has lobbied members of Congress and engaged in an ad-buying blitz, including thousands of anti-Medicare for All Facebook and Twitter ads, typically hyper-targeted at Democratic co-sponsors of Medicare for All legislation.

Members of the partnership spent a combined $143 million in 2018, including $23 million in lobbying money from insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield and nearly $28 million from pharmaceutical industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Big pharma, health insurers and for-profit hospitals are now using our health care premiums to publicly attack legislators who defend our right to health care,” Benjamin Day, director of the pro-single-payer organization Healthcare-NOW!, told Truthout in an article cited by Sanders.

"More can and should be done to extend coverage and control costs, but with roughly 90 percent of Americans now covered and a majority satisfied with their coverage and care, we should be working together to build and improve upon what's working—not tear it down as Senator Sanders would do," PAHCF Executive Director Lauren Crawford Shaver, who coordinates "grassroots efforts" for lobbying firm Forbes Tate Partners, told Newsweek.

Ads paid for by the Partnership for America's Health Care Future have argued that anything from full Medicare for All legislation to expanding the ACA with a public option will “lead to higher taxes and less patient choice for every American family” by disrupting the current system and preventing public programs, like state-by-state Medicaid expansion and federal subsidies to private insurance, from bringing down costs.

Sanders characterized PAHCF ads as “deceptive.” Currently drafted Medicare for All legislation would dramatically expand patient choice by eliminating private insurance networks. Medicare for All legislation would also eliminate copays and deductibles, further empowering the one in four Americans who have refused medical care because of high costs (often even with insurance).

As for higher taxes, economist Matt Bruenig argues in the New York Times that, even with the additional tax burden, most income groups will pay less from their wages than they currently do in private insurance premiums. A RAND study on single-payer legislation under consideration in New York state found that health care costs would be dramatically lower for low and middle income people, with only individuals earning above $134,000 (or $276,000 for a family of four) paying more than they do now.

“These frantic attempts to derail our progress are a sign that we are winning,” Sanders writes in his Buzzfeed editorial. “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."