California Forum

Universal health care is the new litmus test for Democrats

The Associated Press

With Obamacare imperiled, the California Senate’s decision to embrace Medicare for All cements this state’s leadership in the resistance to President Donald Trump.

Following California’s lead, Democrats nationally are embracing plans to expand Medicare to provide all Americans with health insurance. The trend is substantive and strategic, as the party seeks remedies to the country’s health care challenges, and looks to rebuild its base with working class voters facing rising health care costs.

As pollsters, we see the disconnect between what Americans want and the policies Washington is pursuing.

Our polling finds health care to be a top concern, with voters clearly disapproving of the Republicans’ American Health Care Act. Others confirm what we have found.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds just 8 percent of Americans want the U.S. Senate to pass the House Republicans’ version of health care. It’s easy to see why.

Trump pledged an Obamacare replacement that would cover everyone, reduce health care costs, and improve care. The House Republican bill does just the opposite, giving the rich hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, stripping health insurance from 23 million people and raising costs for many others.

As a Senate Republican majority awash in campaign contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical companies debates what to do with this deeply unpopular bill, elected Democrats are warming to the voters’ will.

A recent Economist-YouGov poll finds 60 percent of adults favor “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.”

In California, our polling finds even stronger support. Medicare for All is favored by 70 percent of the state’s voters, including 53 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents, and 79 percent of Democrats.

While Democratic grassroots enthusiasm for universal health care is unsurprising, the growth in support among Democratic elected officials is truly remarkable.

Many in the party establishment last year dismissed single-payer. In January 2016, Hillary Clinton declared Medicare for All an idea “that will never, ever come to pass.”

Today, with the California Senate passing a Medicare for All bill and states such as New York considering it, support for Medicare for All legislation championed for 15 years by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has grown from 25 sponsors in 2003 to 111, a majority of House Democrats.

In the Senate, single-payer champion Bernie Sanders, who made Medicare for All a centerpiece of his surprisingly strong 2016 presidential campaign, has emerged as the leading Democratic voice on health care. He proposed reforms to lay the foundation for universal coverage, including lowering the Medicare eligibility age and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Single-payer has not yet been endorsed by the Democratic leadership in Congress. But growing grassroots and political support for Medicare for All soon could make it the de facto Democratic health care plan, with or without the leaders.

Progressive organizations such as the California Nurses Association are making the issue a priority for 2018. Candidates competing in Democratic primaries will have to consider this dynamic.

Victor Hugo wrote that one cannot resist an idea whose time has come. Medicare for All soon could become the new litmus test for Democratic candidates, including those who are running for governor in 2018 and for the presidency in 2020.

Ben Tulchin and Ben Krompak are President and Vice President, respectively, of Tulchin Research in San Francisco. They polled for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, and have done work for the California Nurses Association. They can be contacted at