Medicare for All: What’s In a Name?

The Americans most satisfied with the current healthcare system are those with government sponsored health insurance. So why is it that whenever it is proposed that such a system be expanded to the entire nation, it is immediately dismissed as a communist ploy by closet-socialists?

It is all about language. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last year found that 61% of respondents react positively to the phrase Medicare-for-all. But when language like single payer is used, their positivity vanishes. That is because this term conjures up notions of a government takeover at a time when trust in the government is in the gutter.1 Replace single payer with the phrase Medicare-for-all, which is in essence the same kind of healthcare system, and suddenly a solid majority of Americans are back on board.

This is cognitive dissonance at its finest. Most Americans have been led to believe that single payer healthcare is abominable despite the fact that we’ve had exactly that kind of system in the US since 1965. It is called Medicare.2 But when fear triggering language is removed from the equation and people are asked to respond in a way that relates to their actual lived (and positive) experience, the ruse is up.

Healthcare is complicated, but reform doesn’t have to be evil. Just ask Americans.

1Of note, Medicare-for-all is not the same as socialized medicine, which was also asked about in this survey and received the lowest positive reaction scores.

2Medicare is a single payer healthcare system in the US available to all Americans over 65. It provides health insurance but does not provide the actual healthcare—private hospitals and providers do. But because the funding for these services comes from a single source (in this case the government) prices can be aggressively negotiated. This decreases the overall cost of the system, which is along-sought after goal of health reform, given the US has the 35th highest per capita expenditure on health care in the world (more than double that of countries like the UK, Japan, and France).

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