Republicans and conservatives are gloating over the Democratic presidential primary candidates’ apparent unforced error in admitting that they want to extend “Medicare for All” coverage to illegal immigrants.
The New York Post featured a front-page image of all ten Democratic primary candidates raising their hands in support of health care coverage for illegal immigrants at the debate in Miami with the caption, “Who wants to lose the election?”
President Trump tweeted, “That’s the end of that race!”
A columnist for The Federalist called it “a picture that is worth a thousand words.” Conservative media, in general, has treated the move as tantamount to political hari-kari.
Indeed, extending health care benefits to illegal immigrants is unpopular. One poll conducted after the debates found that just 38 percent of respondents believed government health care should cover illegal immigrants. Some centrist Democrats and independents, whose support is needed to pass Medicare for All, may balk if illegal immigrants are covered under such legislation — in either its “public option” or “single-payer” form.
Democrats are making Medicare for All a primary campaign issue. So conservatives are right to try to undermine its support. However, they are making a big mistake by making illegal immigrant coverage the centerpiece of their counterargument. By complaining that illegal immigrant Medicare coverage is unfair, conservatives tacitly admit that Medicare for All is something that’s desirable in the first place.
Limiting the fight over socialized medicine to simply the criteria for coverage turns the argument into one of mere implementation logistics. This is a debate that is downstream from higher order principles such as morality, individual rights, economics, and quality of care.
In this sense, focusing on the illegal immigrant angle is like giving the other team the ball on your own five-yard line. The hard yards over whether socialized medicine is even desirable in the first place have already been won. Best case scenario for conservatives under this approach is that Medicare for All passes while exempting illegal immigrants.
Of course, Republicans and conservatives have other arrows in their anti-Medicare for All quiver. Yet they seem unwilling or unable to make the necessary moral and philosophical case to fight it.
When they are not beating the illegal immigrant drum, their main argument against Medicare for All is one based on cost. While it’s true that its estimated $32 trillion cost would blow up the federal budget, Republicans have lost the moral authority to oppose policy based on cost. Under President Trump, Republicans have increased the budget deficit by one-third to nearly one trillion dollars. Republicans also torpedoed budget sequestration, which was the best opportunity to reduce government spending in a generation.
A better approach to fight socialized healthcare is pointing out its inevitable associated moral consequences, including bureaucratic bloat, lack of choice, rationing, substandard care, extended wait times, misdirected resources, artificially low physician compensation, and massive taxpayer costs.
Rather than discussing the poor migrants crossing the southern border, conservatives should instead point to the some 60,000 “immigrants” coming across the northern border from Canada each year on tourist visas to escape their country’s healthcare waitlist and receive care in the United States. About one million Canadians are stuck on specialist waitlists that average nearly half a year. In the United Kingdom, the operating waitlist stands at 4.3 million. Conservatives and libertarians should explain how countless lives and livelihoods are lost each year under socialized medicine.
To more effectively fight Medicare for All, Republicans should also highlight the chronic problems with Medicaid and Veterans Health Administration coverage. These government programs are plagued by gross mismanagement and rationing. Only about half of doctors nationwide will accept new Medicaid patients. Opponents of socialized medicine should refer to Medicare for All by its more appropriate name, “Medicaid for All” and watch support for it shrink precipitously.
All this isn’t to say there aren’t serious systemic problems with the “private” U.S. health care system. But these problems are the result of cronyism, not capitalism. (Check out the Soviet Union-style Certificate of Need laws for a classic of the cronyism genre that defines U.S. health care.) Yet, the way to fix it isn’t more government control, but less.
Republicans made the 2018 election a referendum on immigration and suffered one of their worst defeats in party history. Now they’re mobilizing to do the same in 2020, invoking illegal immigrants as a feckless talking point against Medicare for All.
Isn’t it time for a new political strategy that’s insightful and inspiring rather than divisive and demonizing?
Jordan Bruneau is an immigration policy analyst in Los Angeles.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.