WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2009, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. was asked if Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which was taking the lead on health care reform at the time, was open to his ideas.
“To a single-payer idea? No. Not in a million years,” Sanders replied to a C-SPAN interviewer.
Sanders — who just announced that he will roll out his much-anticipated single-payer health care bill next week — didn’t have to wait that long.
In fact, it took less than 10 years for Baucus to come around. The former Montana senator told an audience in Montana on Thursday that “we’ve got to start looking at single-payer,” the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
Baucus was instrumental to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But he became a chief target of the left’s ire when he refused to consider single-payer plans as part of the health reform process, and for overseeing the demise of the public option, which would have provided a government-run alternative to private health insurance on the state-based exchanges.
Now, however, Baucus said it’s impossible to ignore the American health care system’s failings compared to Canada, which has a single-payer system.
While Baucus didn’t fully endorse the idea, he called for the Congress to consider it and suggested the country is heading toward something like single-payer at some point. “It’s going to happen,” he said.
Baucus’ move reflects how quickly the once-fringe idea of government-funded health care is gaining traction inside the Democratic party and among possible 2020 White House hopefuls.
For the first time this year, a majority of House Democrats have signed on to support Medicare for All, as advocates prefer to call it. In the past two weeks, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — two potential 2020 presidential candidates — announced they would support Sanders’ forthcoming bill.
The loudest advocate of Medicare for All, Sanders has the ability to shape the debate in a relatively unexplored policy space when he finally unveils the details of his plan Wednesday.
But the policy challenges are enormous, as Sanders’ own state of Vermont learned when it scrapped its single-payer plan after the finances collapsed.
And the political hurdles may be just as great, with Democrats entirely out of power and Republicans eager to equate Medicare for All with socialism.