Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, is throwing his support behind legislation to offer universal single-payer health care to all Americans, saying it is unfair to let poor people go without medical attention simply because they cannot afford it.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Booker said universal health care should be guaranteed just like voting rights, civil rights, and a public education. “When it comes to one of the most basic aspects of the ideals of life and liberty, you must include that every American has access to quality, affordable health care,” he said.
The Medicare for All bill, sponsored by former presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, would largely do away with private insurers and move the country toward a single-payer system, in which the federal government reimburses doctors for basic medical care.
No specific funding plan was proposed, but the overhaul would likely be paid for by raising taxes on the rich and eliminating loopholes.
Sanders and his Democratic co-sponsors noted that industrialized nations such as Australia and Canada have a universal, single-payer system, and their citizens are healthier than Americans.
Booker said that has to change. “Let me just end with the words of one of the patron saints of New Jersey, a man named Bruce Springsteen. He says it proudly: we are a nation that takes care of its own.”
But it’s Washington, so there’s politics.
Booker and at least two of the other co-sponsors — Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have been floated as possible Democratic candidates for president in 2020.
Backing a progressive issue like universal health care could play well for them come primary season in a few years.
“The first hurdle that any of these individuals would have to pass through is the Democratic primary process. And ideology matters,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and politics at Montclair State University. “You have to court liberal Democrats.”
Although the prognosis for the passage of Sanders’ bill is not good, given that Republicans control both houses of Congress, Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker says that the public position-taking can still benefit the Democratic co-sponsors, like Booker.
“It happens a lot in national politics: a popular idea comes along and people want to be associated with it,” Baker said. “They want to be able to respond when asked the question: do you support single-payer? In front of the right audience, yes is the right answer.”
Local Senators facing re-election in 2018 were not as eager to publicly back single-payer health care. Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, and Delaware’s Tom Carper — all Democrats facing re-election next year — have yet to sign onto the legislation.