Last night Senator Maria Cantwell held her first town hall since 2009, back when she was busy not supporting a public option for Obamacare. In front of the hundreds of blue-haired, heavily perfumed Indivisibles at Kane Hall, she maintained her suspicion of truly progressive healthcare reform by not fully endorsing Medicare for All.
No fewer than three people in the auditorium last night asked a version of that question. Why not Medicare for All? Cantwell's democratic colleague in the House, Pramila Jayapal, announces her approval of the idea every chance she gets. (She'll likely do so again at her town hall at Town Hall tonight.) Bernie Sanders is leading the charge in the Senate, and Elizabeth Warren recently took up the torch, too. So why not Cantwell?
Because she still believes Democrats can work with Republicans to fix Obamacare.
When asked to produce a few palatable solutions, Cantwell spoke in depth (and with the aid of charts!) about the Basic Health Plan and other measures that are just hanging around in the ACA, waiting for states to take advantage of them.
The BHP is designed to cover people who are too poor to buy insurance on the market, but too "rich" to qualify for Medicaid. According to the Herald, "an estimated 162,000 in Washington, those making between about $16,000 and $23,500 a year," fit that description.
Cantwell loves the BHP so much she threatened to oppose the ACA unless lawmakers accepted it as an amendment, which they did.
Cantwell's affection for the plan makes sense. It's her baby. She worked on an early version of the plan when she was in the state legislature back in the 1980s, and she was probably sad to see it go after WA took the Medicaid expansion in 2013 and dumped BHP due to budget cuts. A revived version of the plan passed the state House in 2014, but it died quietly in the Senate.
New York and Minnesota, however, have adopted a version of the plan. Cantwell said New York now has 650,000 people signed up on a basic health plan, and that those people were getting more affordable rates. How affordable? Back to the Herald: "[People on the plan in NY in 2014] were paying about $20 in monthly premiums and $15 co-pays to see a primary care doctor. Minnesota has enrolled about 121,000, who are paying average premiums of about $16 a month."
If you Frankenstein BHP together with Medicare and Medicaid, you kinda-sorta have something that looks like "universal coverage."
But when asked why BHP would be better than Medicare for All, Cantwell said "it's the difference between what we can do right now, and what will take us longer."
This is the same circular logic the Senator used back in 2009, so I'm just going to use the same sentence structure Eli used when he was confused about Cantwell's stance on the public option: "Because Cantwell can't yet count enough votes to pass [Medicare for All], she won't add her vote in favor of [Medicare for All]—which, of course, makes it even harder to find enough votes to pass [Medicare for All.]"
One gentleman who spoke out of turn at the town hall suggested that Cantwell's reliance on money from the pharmaceutical industry might explain her reluctance to embrace Medicare for All. According to Open Secrets, pharmaceutical companies have donated a pretty modest $176,305 to Cantwell since she took the office in 2001. By comparison, Washington's other senator, Patty Murray, is a pill baron. She pulled in $906,146 from the same industry since 1992.
No, no. Cantwell won't come out in support of Medicare for All because she doesn't have to. Her seat is safe, so she can maintain the centrist position that Democrats can work with Republicans to find market-based solutions.
In a recent poll, Cantwell clobbers her only currently viable Republican competitor, former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, by 13 points.
And despite all the enthusiasm on the Bernie-Warren-Jayapal end of the party, Medicare for All just isn't that popular yet. Though support is growing, a recent poll from Pew shows that 33 percent of Americans favor a single-payer system. A Morning Consult poll puts that number at 44 percent.
So maybe Washington progressives need to get a bit louder? This week, they have two more opportunities to get heard. Cantwell is holding a town hall on net neutrality at Town Hall Seattle on Friday afternoon at 11:00 a.m. On Saturday, she's holding a general town hall at TEC High School Gymnasium at 11:00 a.m., as well.