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How Healthcare Pulls Me Left, But Also Keeps Me Centered

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Leading up to the midterms, we heard repeatedly that healthcare was the number one issue on the minds of American voters; exit polls from Tuesday night indicate that held true. A year removed from repeated attempts by Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, voters seemed determine to ensure that they, well, were insured. “Obamacare” now polls at over 50%, and its preexisting condition protections seem to have support across the political spectrum (except among elected Republicans, but even they began feigning support to avoid losing their seats).

On the left side of the spectrum, there is also some general consensus — namely that more people should have healthcare, and that it should be cheaper. Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin, representing the most and least progressive members of the Democratic Caucus, both voted for the ACA and against its repeal, and will likely continue to do so (although Manchin is a half-step away from just becoming a Republican, so we’ll see where that goes).

However, there is also some strong intraparty conflict on what our next steps should be. The Sanders wing (of which I am a member) wants to go full bore towards a universal, single payer, Medicare For All system. The more mainstream wing seems content with more incremental fixes, most notably a public option, which essentially means anyone could buy into Medicare, regardless of their age. Others seem relatively content with the ACA as it is, with a few minor tweaks here and there.

On this issue, like many others, I often find myself stuck somewhere in the middle; not in terms of my ultimate goal— I firmly believe in single payer healthcare (or something very near it) as the way forward. It is clear to me, both morally and politically in looking around at the rest of the developed world, that there is no excuse for the richest country on earth to not guarantee healthcare to everyone. But just as healthcare was my entry into the Bernie Sanders Left, it is also what keeps me a loyal Democrat in the end.

I receive Medicaid services in the state of Washington, as a college student without a regular job who does not have the luxury of remaining on a family plan with a parent. On election night 2016, when Donald Trump was on his way to victory, I panicked. I was worried I and others close to me would be losing our healthcare. In hindsight it seems like an overreaction because even if the Republicans managed to destroy the ACA, and along with it the Medicaid expansion, Washington state would have almost certainly done something to fill in the gaps. And even if that were not the case, I am a healthy young person who could have probably gone a couple years without seeing a doctor before graduating college and starting my career. But for others in even more precarious situations, that fear is anything but irrational.

I want widespread, fundamental changes to take place in our country, starting with the removal of the for-profit health insurance industry in favor of a universal program. I truly believe, in my core, that no one should have to forego medical treatment because they can’t afford it, nor should anyone face financial ruin because they did receive the care they needed. But those same values, coupled with the haunting feelings of November 8th 2016, are why I don’t think I will ever be able to support a true purge of the Democratic Party.

I understand the ever-growing frustration towards the Democratic establishment, that far too often seems to fluctuate between incompetence and complacency; I really do. But in spite of all that, I simply cannot bring myself to really follow through on anything that cedes more control, even temporary, to the Republican Party as it currently exists. Simply consider what has happened in the roughly two years since Trump took office. Sure, the ACA is still the law of the land, but the reactionary Supreme Court majority could not only change that, but could also stop any future progressive legislation in its tracks without any real consequence. That is terrifying.

People are sick of voting for what they see as the lesser of two evils, and I get that. But I believe it is our job to reform the party from the inside without putting people at risk. And if that means playing nice with the establishment, I for one think we have no other choice.


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