Will Bernie Sanders' "Medicare For All" Health Care Plan Divide Democrats?

Nov 3, 2017

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to make his "Medicare for all" health care plan a top priority for the Democrats in the 2018 elections. But a number of moderate Democrats worry this approach will hurt their chances of winning seats in Congress next year.

Recently, Sanders traveled to the University of Toronto to highlight his legislation known as “Medicare For All” – a plan that would provide universal access to health care for all Americans.  The proposal is modeled after Canada’s single payer national health care system.

A sold out crowd of roughly 1,700 students crammed into the university's main auditorium to listen to the politician who made a surprising showing in the 2016 presidential contest.

Sanders told the crowd that his bill would ensure that all Americans have access to health care.

"Which finally will allow the United States of America to do what every other major country on earth is doing and that is guaranteeing health care to all as a right, not a privilege," said Sanders.

And Sanders argued that access to health care is a critical part of maintaining a vibrant democratic society.

"How free are you if you're one of the 28 million Americans who cannot afford to go to the doctor when you get sick because you have no health insurance?” said Sanders. “And that is a very important debate that we need to have - what does freedom mean?"

"Which finally will allow the United States of America to do what every other major country on earth is doing and that is guaranteeing health care to all as a right not a privilege."—Sen. Bernie Sanders

Not all Congressional Democrats are supporting Sanders' push for a single payer health care system and many don't want it to be a key issue in the 2018 elections.

Former Gov. Howard Dean, who served as the head of the national Democratic Party after his unsuccessful run for president in 2004, is a strong supporter of Sanders' plan

"I think he's actually pulling the party to where many of the American people are,” said Dean. “I see this actually as one of Bernie's great lasting legacies that he has finally gotten one of his most important issues on the screen for all Americans."   

And Dean thinks the Democrats should also embrace Sanders' proposals to raise the minimum wage, provide free college tuition and impose higher tax rates on wealthy people.

"I think Bernie's role in all of this has been to push us to a place where we're going to have a more equitable society," said Dean.

"I see this actually as one of Bernie's great lasting legacies that he has finally gotten one of his most important issues on the screen for all Americans." — Former Gov. Howard Dean

But University of Vermont political science professor Eileen Burgin thinks Sanders will have a hard time bringing a lot of Democrats on board to support his health care plan.

She notes that an effort to include a public option as part of the Affordable Care Act was rejected by the Democrats when they controlled the Senate in 2009.

"I think it gives some perspective on the difficulty that this idea presents for a lot of members in the Democratic Party representing very different constituencies than Bernie Sanders represents," said Burgin.

And Norwich University political science professor Ted Kohn thinks Sanders' decision to continue to run as an "independent" Senate candidate in the future could hurt him with some elements of the Democratic Party.

"I think it's hard to get Democratic Party institutional support for your ideas if you kind of abdicate this position as being head of the Progressive wing working from inside the Democratic Party," said Kohn.

Sanders readily admits that there is virtually no chance of his health care plan passing as long as the Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

But he says he will continue to actively push for the proposal to help educate American voters about the benefits of this approach.