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Will conservatives learn to stop worrying and love single-payer health care?

This may not be as ridiculous a question as it sounds at this moment, as congressional Republican leadership does its damnedest to move forward with the GOP’s deeply unpopular plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare (or, you know, do something vaguely along those lines).

In fact, I ask it because in recent weeks I’ve run across no less than three articles pitching a conservative case for universal, government-funded health care. Here’s Matthew Walther in his debut column at The Week:


Single payer is the only way forward. The U.S. government should provide health insurance for every one of its citizens. […] Putting the government in charge of health care would restore it to its proper place in our lives. If conservatives’ worst fears turn out to be justified, then visiting the doctor will become a very occasional half-day-long exercise in mandatory tedium, like going to the DMV or having your passport renewed.

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Here’s Chase Madar at The American Conservative:

Don’t tell anyone, but American conservatives will soon be embracing single-payer healthcare, or some other form of socialized healthcare.

Yes, that’s a bold claim given that a GOP-controlled Congress and President are poised to un-socialize a great deal of healthcare, and may even pull it off. But within five years, plenty of Republicans will be loudly supporting or quietly assenting to universal Medicare.  And that’s a good thing, because socializing healthcare is the only demonstrably effective way to control costs and cover everyone. It results in a healthier country and it saves a ton of money.

And here’s Cathleen London at The Hill:

There is no question that the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) needs fixing — but not this way. Not the attack that is happening.

If we are to be truly fiscally conservative, then single payer would be the only option that would be discussed. Medicare has a 3 to 5 percent overhead. There are no multi-million dollar executive salaries. There are no stockholders. There is minimal money spent on advertising and certainly none spent on lobbying. A simple glance at costs over the last few decades show very little rise in physician salaries but a giant leap in administrative overhead.

The cases, which I’ll let you peruse in full at your leisure, aren’t identical, but they are all targeted to those on the right — and honestly, setting aside for the sake of discussion the merits of single payer, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened within the next decade.

A conservative-backed single-payer system began to be plausible to me, oddly enough, when Sen. Bernie Sanders began talking about “Medicare for all.” Sanders used this phrase during his presidential campaign, and he’s still touting it now.

Of course, coming from Sanders, Medicare for all is a nonstarter among many Republicans — but what if it came from, say, President Trump? You know, the guy who promised insurance coverage for everyone and eschews the entitlement reform mantras we hear from the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan. The guy whose base is heavily populated by the Baby Boomer Republicans who just a few years ago were showing up at Tea Party rallies for fiscal conservatism toting signs with slogans like “Don’t steal from Medicare to support socialized medicine.”

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Whether you interpret these demands as an embarrassing ignorance of Medicare’s home in the federal bureaucracy or, more charitably, as an expression of hope that Washington will not be allowed to make an acceptable arrangement worse, the conclusion is the same: five decades on, Medicare does not inspire the same negative reaction for many on the right (especially older generations already using the program) that “single payer” or “socialized medicine” does.

I’m not one for making political predictions, but if “Medicare for all” starts coming from the right mouths, I won’t be shocked to see it happen on Republicans’ watch.

Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at www.bonniekristian.com or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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