Blog Post: Chelsea Clinton Grossly Misrepresents Single Payer

Chelsea Clinton isn’t just a political surrogate, she’s someone who purports to know something about public health. She is, after all, the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, where – according to its website – she works on the organization’s multiple public health projects.  More to the point, she is an adjunct assistant professor in health policy and management at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, where she earned her Masters in Public Health degree.

Which makes her gross misrepresentation of Sanders’ health plan only that much more contemptible. “Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance] program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance,” she was quoted as saying by MSNBC while on the campaign trail for her mother in New Hampshire. She continued (again as quoted by MSNBC): “I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era – before we had the Affordable Care Act – that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

This would be an absurd interpretation of Sanders’ single payer proposal for anybody, much less for someone with some background in health policy. It doesn’t seem to have been an off-the-cuff remark, however: it mirrors a somewhat similar comment made by Hillary Clinton the day before. As she was quoted by the Washington Post:

His plan would take Medicare and Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act health-care insurance and private employer health insurance and he would take that all together and send health insurance to the states, turning over your and my health insurance to governors.

Now I’m a single payer advocate, active in the organization Physicians for a National Health Program (though the views expressed in my articles and blog posts are mine only). If you don’t agree with the vision of a single payer program – whether because you think private insurers do a right proper job of delivering a right to health care or because your campaign receives generous funding from the pharmaceutical industry or whatever – so be it.

But don’t grossly misrepresent such a system by suggesting that Sanders would “dismantle Medicare,” as Chelsea Clinton did. Particularly not when the text of Sanders’ 2013 single payer bill states, “…the 113th Congress should enact a Medicare-for-All Single Payer Health Care System…” This bill is one of several single payer bills and proposals. Representative John Conyers’ single payer bill, H.R. 676, is in fact named the “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act.” To suggest that a system that would provide an improved Medicare program universally to the nation would somehow sneakily rob seniors of their Medicare coverage demonstrates a rather poor grasp of the issues (or something worse).

What both Clintons’ seem to be alluding to, as The Week’s typically on-point Ryan Cooper described earlier this week, is the fact that Sanders’ 2013 bill configures a single payer plan that would, to some extent, have a state-based administrative structure (though it would still be a federal plan and be implemented in every state). Cooper contends that there are some reasonable objections to such a structure, and that perhaps an entirely federal plan might well be superior.

Yet these are relatively minor details. To characterize Sanders’ single payer platform as some sort of dispersal of health care to the whim and fancy of each individual state is fantastically inaccurate. Sanders’ has proposed a fundamentally universal system: a national health program that would cover essentially everyone in every state. At that point, we wouldn’t need a separate Medicaid or Medicare program (or private insurer), which is the raison d’etre of “single payer.” Such a system would be far more just and equitable than what we have now, where – even with the Affordable Care Act largely intact – 32 million remain uninsured and another 31 million underinsured, among other failings.

Of course, such issues will never be a problem for Chelsea Clinton, primarily because she is part of a fabulously rich family. Indeed, as the Intercept’s Zaid Jilani described yesterday in a good piece entitled “Hillary Clinton’s Single-Payer Pivot Greased By Millions in Industry Speech Fees,” Hillary Clinton has raked in a cool $2.8 million in speaking fees in the past two years from the health care industry alone. Jilani also notes that Bill Clinton gave a speech (one presumes for a hefty fee) last year for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobbying group for the health insurance industry. And Chelsea Clinton herself is already able to command $65,000 per college speaking gig, according to the Washington Post.

Like her parents, in other words, Chelsea Clinton is unlikely to go broke from a sky-high deductible or because she inadvertently went to an “out-of-network” doctor or hospital; she’ll never be forced to choose between filling a prescription and paying for rent. Nor should she – nor should anybody.

But obviously that’s no excuse for a campaign surrogate (much less an adjunct assistant professor of health policy and management) to so grossly mischaracterize a rather familiar health reform proposal, particularly not one that has the potential of improving – indeed saving – the lives of so many.