Healthcare crisis kills healthcare reform

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: healthcare reform.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Before the wide field of Democratic presidential hopefuls narrowed to one, the debates featured lively discussions about one topic in particular.

SANDERS: The function of the healthcare system today is to make billions in profits for the insurance companies…

BIDEN: I’m on the only one on this stage that actually got anything done on healthcare. I’m the guy the president turned to and said go get the votes for Obamacare.

KLOBUCHAR: We have worked to bring down the cost by fighting to allow 43 million seniors, that’s a bill I lead, to negotiate for better prices under Medicare.

Most of the candidates supported two choices: Medicare for All or the so-called Public Option. But after experiencing a pandemic, what do American voters think about these proposals? WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Every month, The Kaiser Family Foundation asks Americans about their views on healthcare issues … especially healthcare reform proposals. 

Ashley Kirzinger is a public opinion researcher at the foundation. She says before the coronavirus came to American shores, one of the healthcare reform ideas gaining traction among Democrats and Independents was Medicare for All.

KIRZINGER: It’s really kind of increased in awareness since Bernie Sanders made it a pivotal point in his presidential campaign. 

Medicare for All would nationalize healthcare. It would completely get rid of the private healthcare sector. In January, Kaiser’s tracking poll found 56 percent of Americans liked that idea. And in the most recent poll in May, that number held steady. 

Ashley Kirzinger says that flat line is surprising. 

KIRZINGER: We thought with all of the conversation around the cost of coverage and people’s concerns with this big public health crisis that the country was facing, that we thought that there may be some shifts in attitudes towards Medicare for All.

Another healthcare shake-up gaining buzz before the pandemic was the Public Option plan. That’s where the government would create a federal health insurance policy. The idea is that it would compete with private insurance plans and be cheaper. 

KIRZINGER: The vast majority of Democrats, nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 independents and about half of Republicans actually support a Public Option.

In January that support came to more than two-thirds of all Americans. Fast forward to May, as lockdowns started to end in many states, the level of support for that reform didn’t change either.

KIRZINGER: It seems that attitudes towards both of these have really stabilized and haven’t shifted dramatically because of the coronavirus.

So, why no shift? 

Doug Badger is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. He says one reason is that the longer these ideas are around the more people learn about the nuts and bolts. 

BADGER: The more people learn about them in terms of their cost in terms of potential limitations on their access to care, the less supportive they become.

Kaiser Family Foundation’s Ashley Kirzinger says the lack of change is also a symptom of America’s deep divide. During the coronavirus Republicans have largely seen a system that can handle a pandemic, while many Democrats see a system that’s faltered.  

KIRZINGER: It solidified their beliefs. For Republicans, they may think that we don’t need drastic changes to the country’s health insurance system, and this is just an indication that when there is a public crisis, that we can make other changes, and so we don’t need a much larger systematic change.

But could attitudes toward a healthcare makeover change going into November? 

Katherine Hayes is the healthcare policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center. She predicts the economy will push healthcare to the back burner for the foreseeable future. 

HAYES: My sense is that we’re just not gonna see a lot of movement on healthcare, even though we have had this pandemic.

Tom Miller is with the American Enterprise Institute. He says when the country is in the midst of economic and social upheaval, a healthcare overhaul doesn’t look so attractive. 

MILLER: You’re going to have enough trouble managing a business as usual. And so we’re not about to disrupt everything and take a wild card on a 5 to 10 year project disruption.

But other healthcare researchers say that upheaval could push voters toward change. 

Chris Pope is a healthcare policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. He says the economy is tied to healthcare. Most Americans get their health insurance through their employer. Right now, 21 million Americans are unemployed. If they remain out of work, they could start looking to the government for help. 

POPE: That’s a radical change to the sources of funding and also the politics of how people feel about employee-sponsored health insurance. How exactly that plays out politically at the moment is a little unclear.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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