Medicare for All attracts support for Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to an animated crowd at a rally on Friday in Charlotte. (Anne Snabes/MEDILL)

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Corina Pittman, a college student with severe allergies, once bought two EpiPens that were each $200. She called this price “crazy.”

She is passionate about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal, which would end private health insurance and institute a single-payer health insurance system. That means the government would pay for everyone’s health care.

“I think it’s obviously ridiculous how much money we spend on health care,” said Pittman, who grew up in Pennsylvania and attends college in North Carolina. “My parents spend so much money on health care for our family.”

Pittman, who has supported Sanders since 2015, was raised in an area with a “strong history” of union involvement. She said Sanders’ message of economic rights for the working class is “extremely powerful.”

Medicare for All has driven some Americans to support Sanders. The senator shared his platform to an enthusiastic crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this month, less than three weeks before the state holds its Democratic primary, on March 3, or Super Tuesday. Sanders fans at the rally support Medicare for All because they see current health care as too expensive.

Sanders is competing against former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and other moderates, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.) and former Vice President Joe Biden, who have criticized Medicare for All. They prefer a public option, which would allow anyone to sign up for government-run insurance, like Medicare, but would not end private health insurance.

In Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday, the Culinary Workers Union distributed a flyer that criticized Sanders’ health care plans, according to the Nevada Independent. The union worked for years to achieve its current health insurance plan, and union leaders are not sure that Medicare for All would be an improvement, according to the New York Times. The union is not going to endorse a candidate.

At the Democratic debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Medicare for All supporter Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) said she wants to expand the union’s health facilities, instead of closing them. Moderates at the debate attacked Medicare for All, including Klobuchar, who noted that two-thirds of Democratic senators have been unwilling to co-sponsor a Medicare for All bill.

Many of Bernie Sanders’ fans support his health care proposal, though. At the Charlotte rally, the crowd cheered when Sanders said he would pass Medicare for All as president. After he said it a second time, the crowd chanted, “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”

Sanders also said in his speech that he would expand Medicare so that dental care, eyeglasses, hearing aids and home health care would be covered. “Medicare right now is the most popular health insurance program in the country,” he said, “but it’s not perfect, and I want to make it much better.”

Sanders’ rally in Charlotte drew a large crowd, with some sitting in the theater’s balconies. (Anne Snabes/MEDILL)

John Kinard, a volunteer for Sanders’ campaign in South Carolina, said he has talked to a lot of people who passionately support Sanders because of health care and criminal justice issues.
Kinard has also chatted with voters about Medicare for All. He explained to them that they would receive health care as a service and would not see any medical bills. He said this conversation surprises some people.

“It’s such a basic part of life in the rest of the world, and it’s so unimaginable to Americans,” he said.

In Sweden, county councils and other forms of local government provide health care to citizens, according to the government of Sweden’s website. Taxes are the main source of funding for health care in the country, according to a review by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. Sanders’ Senate office has suggested several options for funding Medicare for All, including making employees and employers pay an income-based premium and taxing “extreme wealth.”

Rachel DeCouto, a 22-year-old Charlotte resident who attended Sanders’ rally, plans to vote for the Vermont senator in the primary. She supports Sanders because she says he represents the American people. She called health care a “huge issue.”

“I can see it in my own family,” she said. “Like, if someone in my family were to get sick, we would be bankrupt, like immediately.”

DeCouto said that over the past year, she visited a doctor for a minor infection, which she had already self-diagnosed. She said the doctor recommended that she schedule a second appointment to rule out other potential conditions. After the second appointment, her parents received a bill in the mail for $1,200, even though DeCouto had been told that she wouldn’t have to pay for the appointment. Her parents are trying to see if the cost can be waived.

Two doctors stood outside the venue before the Sanders rally started, talking about Medicare for All to people about to enter the building. Denise Finck-Rothman, who donned a white coat and a stethoscope, said she is part of Health Care Justice North Carolina, which is a chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization that helped Sanders write his health care bill. The senator introduced a Medicare for All bill in the Senate in 2017 and then another one in 2019, and both bills were referred to the chamber’s Committee on Finance.

“I see every week the people that do not have adequate health care and who just struggle because they can’t get the health care they need,” said Finck-Rothman, a retired family medicine doctor who volunteers at two clinics. She does not approve of a public option. She said insurance companies’ plans would cover the healthy people, while the public option would cover the people “in need of health care.”

“We the taxpayers will be paying for all of the sick people, and all the insurance companies will be getting all the money, that they will pay to their CEOs and their staff and all of that,” she said.

Denise Finck-Rothman, right, spoke to people about Medicare for All outside of the rally venue. (Anne Snabes/MEDILL)

She plans to vote for Sanders in the primary.

Finck-Rothman said, “It was his bill, as he says: ‘It was my damn bill. I wrote it.’”

Photo at top: Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to an animated crowd at a rally on Feb. 14 in Charlotte. (Anne Snabes/MEDILL)