When the Democratic Party’s platform committee rejected a proposal for finally establishing a single-payer health-care system in the United States, Michael Lighty of National Nurses United reminded them that 81 percent of Democrats tell pollsters they support a “Medicare for All” reform. “If [single payer] is controversial in this room, it is the only room of Democrats in which it is controversial,” the veteran union activist explained.
Lighty was right, and, though his position did not prevail that day, he promised that “the 185,000 registered nurses of National Nurses United will not give up on their patients. They will not give up until we assure health care for all. They will not give up until we have Medicare for All.”
Unfortunately, the persistent determination of the Democratic Party’s hypercautious “strategists” and “leaders” to reject the will of Democratic voters—and the historical traditions of a party that declared in its 1948 platform: “We favor the enactment of a national health program”—continues.
This reticence is practically and politically unnecessary, as the party’s potential presidential contenders have recognized. One-third of Senate Democrats now back the single-player legislation advanced by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, including 2020 prospects Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Despite the fact that Democrats who are thinking seriously about the future are moving on the issue, there are still too many top Democrats who pull their punches, refusing to embrace a reform that is at once needed and popular.
In Ohio, for instance, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, whom local publications have described as “the choice of the Democratic Party establishment,” takes a typically cautious position on health-care reform. says he’s for “reliable access to quality health care” and that “we must make sure that our most vulnerable continue to receive access to health care.”
The former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is generally seen as the front-runner in the contest for the Democratic nomination in the open-seat gubernatorial race. But Cordray faces a significant challenge in the May 8 Democratic primary from former Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Kucinich’s approach to the health-care debate is much bolder than Cordray’s.
“Health care ought to be a basic right in a democratic society. The affordability and availability of health care is essential to the quality and length of life. Any society worthy of the support of its people ought to provide health care for all. The fact that quality health care is generally available depending on income compromises our humanity, makes health-care peons of hardworking Americans, and drives millions of people to the brink of poverty and hampers economic growth by placing a financial burden on small businesses,” says the former mayor of Cleveland, who asks Ohioans to: “Imagine a health-care system which contributes to the health of all of its people, the prosperity of its businesses and industries, and is not hamstrung by insurance companies.”
That system, says Kucinich, “should be a not-for-profit, single-payer system. One fund, one plan, and one single payer, because it is the simplest and most efficient approach to the administration of health-care resources. This does not mean government-run hospitals and long lines. It means there is one agency or organization within state government paying the bills and enjoying the reduced costs by cutting out middlemen.”
This week, the National Nurses Organizing Committee affiliate of National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) endorsed Kucinich, wading into the Ohio race as part of the broader struggle for single payer that in 2016 saw the nurses’ union play a pivotal role in Sanders’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. (NNU’s California section, the California Nurses Association, is playing a major role in that state’s June 5 gubernatorial primary, in which it is backing Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the Democratic front-runner. In Maryland’s June 26 Democratic gubernatorial primary, NNU is backing former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who says, “As Governor, I will work for a Medicare For All system in Maryland because I believe it is the best way to support families and small businesses who continue to pay more and more for a healthcare system that provides less and less each year.”)
As a mayor, state legislator, congressman, and, most recently, commentator on Fox News, Ohio’s Kucinich has established a record of taking bolder and more controversial stances than most prominent Democrats. That unsettles some Democratic strategists, who worry openly about his electability. But the nurses like what they’re hearing from the candidate on health-care issues—and they’re betting that a lot of Democratic and independent voters feel the same way.
Citing Kucinich’s plan to develop a single-payer system in Ohio, Rhonda Risner, RN, a member of NNOC/NNU from Dayton, said: “The current system is not working for large numbers of Ohioans. Almost 650,000 people in Ohio have no health insurance whatsoever and tens of thousands more have insurance with deductibles and co-pays so high they cannot afford to see a doctor or seek hospital care when they need it. This is a key reason why we need Dennis Kucinich as our next governor so we have a real leader in Columbus who will enact a real solution to this crisis.”